Monday, May 30, 2016

Sizzling succulent garden in Morro Bay

Today is Memorial Day. and as is often the case here in the Sacramento Valley, it’s hot. The forecast calls for 98°F this afternoon. But that’s just the beginning: 107°F by Friday! That’s 42°C for you metric folks.


The garden I’m showing you today is hot, too, but for different reasons. It sizzles because of its specimen-quality plants and its masterful design by Morro Bay-based Gardens by Gabriel, Inc. The house itself is pretty sweet, too.


This garden is located in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast and is owned by Vince and Janet Marino. I visited it on our last day of our spring break vacation, and it was standout even in a town where succulents play a prominent part in public and private landscaping.

My wife had found this article while she was doing pre-trip research. A friend of a friend had visited the garden and told me which street it was on. I tried to be as conspicuous as possible when taking these photos in hopes the homeowners might come out to see what I was doing. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be home. I would have loved to talk to them about this beautiful slice of succulent heaven.

On the other hand, plants don’t need anybody to speak for them. They are perfectly capable of representing themselves.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Succulents by the sea: Cambria Shores Inn

In a previous post I took you to Grow Nursery in the town of Cambria on California’s Central Coast. Two miles away on Moonstone Beach Drive is Cambria Shores Inn. What does a motel have to do with a nursery?

Here’s the answer:


The Cambria Shores Inn features a veritable extravaganza of succulents that makes you slam on the brakes as you approach.

It turns out that the Cambria Shores Inn’s landscaping was designed by Nick Wilkinson, the owner of Grow Nursery (and Left Field in San Luis Obispo). The motel is owned by his mother and stepfather, Leslie and Kim Eady.

This May 2015 articles from the San Luis Obispo Tribune describes the beginnings of this project:

Renovations began in 2006. Nick Wilkinson was an art major with an intense interest in plants and landscaping. He drew freehand sketches of how the garden would look after nearly an acre of lawn was removed. The turf was torn out down to bare rock. New soil was brought in and mounded to various heights. Additional rock came from local quarries.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 Pence Gallery Garden Tour

I already showed you my hands-down favorite at this year’s Pence Gallery Garden Tour, Bunny Jean Cunningham’s playful art garden. None one of the other gardens resonated as much with me, but many had elements I found memorable. Read on to see what caught my eye. The numbering scheme follows the official program given out to ticket holders.

Garden #2 is located on a quiet street half a block from the UC Davis campus. The first thing I noticed was the choice of fencing; a low 3-ft. fence all the way around. Since the property is on a corner, the backyard you see below is completely exposed. (Or is it the front yard? I really can’t tell, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.)


Clearly the homeowners value contact with their neighbors and passers-by more than privacy. I found this approach very refreshing although I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable with it myself.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Front yard succulent mounds finally mulched

In February we finally removed the front lawn and replaced it with two succulent mounds surrounded by decomposed gravel walkways. The rock we had originally chosen as the top dressing, California Gold, ended up being too pink for our taste. I started to dig it into the soil to a) improve the drainage even further, and b) make as much of it disappear.

In the three months since then I continued to look for a rock we might like better. I never found what I really wanted—something you might see in the desert, with sharp edges (no rounded gravel), in darker earth tones—but none of the rock yards in your area carry what I had envisioned. Unfortunately you can’t simply log onto Amazon and order a cubic yard of the rock product of your choice!

With summer just a stone’s throw away, I was eager to get a top dressing on to lock in as much moisture as possible after watering and keep the roots cool. After initially leaning towards a bluer stone, we finally opted for a product called “crushed Lodi rock.” Lodi rock is a rounded gravel, but the crushed 3/8” variety has a nice sharp edges. As you can see in some of the photos below, the colors range from light yellows all the way to dark blues and grays. The overall look is a grayish beige.

Here is what the beds looked like yesterday morning (“before”):


The rock was delivered in the afternoon:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Whimsical and wonderful: Bunny Jean Cunningham’s art garden on Pence Gallery Garden Tour

The Pence Gallery (or “Pence,” as everybody calls it) is an institution here in Davis. Established in 1976, this not-for-profit community art gallery is not only a popular downtown destination, it’s also a leading player in the visual arts scene in Northern California.

As a fundraiser, the Pence organizes a tour of local gardens every May. My wife and I had done it two years ago (see here: 1 | 2 | 3). Since this year was the 25th anniversary, we decided to pony up the $25 per person and do it again.

We visited eight of the ten gardens (the other two were the small garden at the Pence as well as the UC Davis Arboretum Terrace next to Whole Foods, which I’ve blogged about before). This post is about the one garden that truly stood out. My second post will briefly touch on the other gardens.

This year’s gardens were all located in the downtown area. While not an official theme, it became apparent that the ongoing drought has had an impact on most of the gardens. Some gardens had no lawns at all, others had drastically reduced the areas dedicated to turf. Some gardens had been designed by professionals, others by dedicated homeowners.

A large budget obviously buys you flashy things, but personally, I’m much more interested in the intimate connection between gardeners and their garden. That has almost nothing to do with money.

The garden I want to feature in today’s post straddles both worlds. It’s had professional help (design by Margot Anderson), but it’s also a deeply personal space. Its owner, Bunny Jean Cunningham, ran one of Davis’ top hair salons for decades, and she’s also an enthusiastic and accomplished ceramic artist.

This is the first thing we saw as we approached Bunny Jean’s garden:


Even though I’m not a big fan of Agave americana ‘Marginata’ (inside lurks a monster of epic proportions),  the wire-haired cairn troll was fantastic.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

First Echinopsis cactus flower in the front yard

For me, cactus flowers are among the most beautiful sights in nature. Often large and remarkably detailed, they typically require so much energy to produce that they only last for day or two.

The genus Echinopsis, one of the largest, most amorphous, and most contested in the Cactaceae family, arguably has the most spectacular flowers.

In recent years, my cactus preferences have veered towards barrel cacti, grown primarily for their shape (their flowers are usually small and, as far as cactus flowers go, not that impressive). But when we replaced our front lawn with succulent beds this February, I planted out a few neglected Echinopsis that had been languishing in a shallow bowl on the front porch. Marred by sunburn and uneven growth, their stems weren’t pretty but I was hoping their flowers would make up for it.

This morning, the first flower opened up. See for yourself.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Where spiky meets stylish: Grow Nursery, Cambria, CA

My personal highlight of our spring break trip to California’s Central Coast in March was Grow Nursery in the small town of Cambria, about 20 miles from our home base of Morro Bay. Grow is owned and operated by Nick Wilkinson. Although he wasn’t able to make it this year, he has been a semi-regular vendor at the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s annual Show and Sale so I was familiar with the caliber of plants Nick sells. I had high hopes for his nursery, and what I found far exceeded my expectations.


As you can see from the photo above, Grow isn’t your run-of-the-mill hometown nursery. It’s actually part of a larger complex called The Shops at the Garden Shed. Located on 2024 Main Street in Cambria’s East Village, the original tin building dates back to the 1890s when it was a creamery. Grow is located in a smaller building in the back.

This is what you see as you approach the Garden Shed:


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Perfect flower on Leucospermum ‘Goldie’

It’s no secret that I love the Proteaceae family. Most of these Southern Hemisphere shrubs—think of the sugarbushes (proteas), conebushes (leucadendrons) and pincushions (leucospermus) from South Africa, or grevilleas and banksias from Australia, to name just a few—have beautiful foliage, stunning flowers or both.

The pincushions (leucospermums) aren’t all that blessed in the leaf department, but they more than make up for it with their stunning inflorescences. Just take a look at some of the images on Google to see what I mean!

Unfortunately, leucospermums have proven challenging to grow here in Davis. Unlike leucadendrons, grevilleas and banksias, with which I’ve had good luck, leucospermums seem to be more sensitive to the summer heat and winter cold (even in a mild-winter climate like ours). My beloved Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ died a sudden death last summer, probably because the spot it was in was too hot.


Leucospermum cuneiforme ‘Goldie’ flower on April 21, 2016

But I have one leucospermum left. It’s a cultivar called ‘Goldie’, which I bought at the Ruth Bancroft Garden 2014 Spring Plant Sale. says it’s a named selection of Leucospermum cuneiforme, a “stout” shrub and the “most widespread” of the pincushions. Other than that, I haven’t been able to find much information about it, especially in relation to other leucospermum species. But I remember buying ‘Goldie’ because Ryan at Ruth Bancroft Garden thought it would do well in my garden. And it has done OK, growing in a container on the backyard patio (see photo at the bottom of this post).

In early January, I noticed what I was hoping was a flower bud, its first ever. There were other nubbins I took to be flower buds, but they turned out to be new leaves. But this one bud did indeed became a flower. In the space of two weeks, it turned from what you see above into this:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Recap: 2016 Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale (part 2 of 2)

In part 1 of this post I showed you the outside vendor area at the 56th Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale, held last weekend, May 7-8, at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in Sacramento, CA.

Now let’s go inside the building to take a look at the plant show. Judging was held early on Saturday, and by the time the building opened to the public, all the award winners were properly labeled.

The first thing visitors might have noticed were these five shadow boxes. This year’s theme was “Olympic Moments.” These shadow boxes are created by SCSS members, and voting is open to the public. My brain isn’t wired for this kind of creativity, and I’m always in awe of what members come up with.


This is the main room of the Shepard Garden and Arts Center:


I don’t know off-hand how many people entered this year, but the caliber of plants on display was higher than ever before. The Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale held every August at the Los Angeles County Arboretum is widely considered to be the most prestigious cactus and succulent show in the U.S., both in terms of size and quality. But I think quite a few plants that were in our show this year would do very well at the Inter-City show.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Recap: 2016 Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale (part 1 of 2)

Last weekend, May 7-8, the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society (SCSS) held its annual Show & Sale. This year marked the 56th anniversary of this event—quite an accomplishment, considering how short-lived many volunteer-run organizations are.

This post focuses on the vendor area in the courtyard of the Shepard Garden and Arts Center on McKinley Blvd, the home of the SCSS for decades. My next post will take you inside the building to show you some of the award-winning succulents entered in the juried competition.

In previous years, I had been the publicity chair for the Show & Sale. This year, I was in charge of the plant hotel, a holding area in the far corner of the courtyard where people could “park” their unpaid plants while they visit the show inside the Center—or, as it turned out, run to the ATM to get cash. More on that later.


Plant hotel

Setup for the event was on Friday, and members helping out or dropping off plants for the show were able to do a bit of early-bird shopping. SCSS Vice President Mariel Dennis knew that resistance was futile and borrowed a pram-turned-plant wagon from a vendor to haul her goodies.


SCSS Vice President Mariel Dennis with her haul

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Heads up: Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society Show & Sale this weekend, May 7-8, 2016

What are you doing this coming weekend, May 7 and 8? If you’re in Sacramento or are up for the drive, join us for the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society’s Show & Sale at Shepard Garden and Arts Center adjacent to McKinley Park. This will be the club’s 56th show, and it promises to be a another great one.


Sunday is Mother’s Day so why not bring your mother—or the mother of your children, or the mother of your pets—to the Show & Sale and let her pick out her own present?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Serendipity in the jungle: Marcia Donahue’s art garden

The second garden Kathy Stoner and I visited on the recent Garden Conservancy East Bay Open Day was listed in the Open Day Directory under the intriguing moniker “Our Own Stuff Gallery Garden.”

The description was no less tantalizing:

My small urban garden has, over the past thirty-eight years, become mature—that is to say, way over my head—an oasis, and a California world of its, and our own. Unusual subtropical plants still intermingle with sculptures in steel, stone, and ceramic which Mark Bulwinkle, Sara Floor, Ted Fullwood, and I have made. Cevan Forristt helped me do a raccoon-proof koi pond. A collection of bantam chickens have the run of the garden by day and sleep in The Poultry Pagoda (Chicken Kremlin?) by night. I have added a “beach,” a faux eroded landfill of pebbles and shards. The ex-driveway is now The Big Beauty Garden, where strong colors and bold foliage embrace a ten-foot-tall ceramic, beatific female figure. The "National Collection of Bambusa Ceramica" continues to increase in size and varieties. The garden never holds still.

Oasis! Subtropical plants! Sculptures! Chickens! Beach! Ten-foot ceramic figure! And, last but not least, Bambusa Ceramica!

I was bursting with anticipation, but Kathy was way ahead of me. She knew that Our Own Stuff Gallery Garden belonged to Marcia Donahue. In Northern California garden design circles, Marcia is a giant. Even though I had seen Marcia’s pieces in quite a few gardens, including this one and this one, I had no idea how well-known—and beloved—she is.

Like Keeyla Meadows, Marcia is a prolific artist. And like Keeyla, she has been working on her own personal garden for decades—in Marcia’s case 38 years. A simple Google search will reveal a wealth of information (and photos) of Marcia’s garden. I won’t repeat what many others have already said. Instead, I’ll let Marcia’s garden speak for itself through my photos.