Sunday, June 26, 2016

Australian garden standouts in late June

Friends from Australia are visiting so what do I do? I take them to the Australian Collection in the UC Davis Arboretum! It felt both wrong and right at the same time. But they enjoyed seeing plants they’re familiar with growing so far away from home.

I hadn’t been to the Australian Collection in a few months, and I was very surprised to see that the grevilleas that had been in bloom in the winter were still going strong. In a spot they like, these beautiful down-under shrubs bloom almost year round.



Grevillea ‘Mason’s Hybrid’

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where succulents go to university: Pitzer College (2 of 2)

This post continues my visit to Pitzer College in Claremont, CA on New Year’s Day. Click here to go back to part 1.

Here is a handy map to help you get your bearings. We’re still at Mead Hall (#11 on the map). It may be one of the older buildings on campus, but its graffiti walls are a highly photogenic backdrop for the succulent plantings.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Where succulents go to university: Pitzer College (1 of 2)

Imagine going to college in a place where the sun shines 290 days of the year, where it virtually never freezes, where it’s warm but not unreasonably hot in the summer—and where there are succulents everywhere. Where, in fact, the entire campus is one large succulent garden.

What a nice dream, you might say.

But it’s not a dream, it’s reality. At Pitzer College in the Southern California town of Claremont.


Planting bed along the edge of the Sanborn parking lot

Friday, June 17, 2016

Variegated lavenders—who knew?

As much as our garden has changed, lavenders have been constant companions. Since they’re short-lived in our hot climate, they need to be replaced periodically (4-5 years). We’ve tried a number of different cultivars over the years, thanks to the large lavender selection at our favorite perennial nursery, Morningsun Herb Farm in nearby Vacaville. Lavandula × intermedia ‘Grosso’ is a perennial favorite for its tall stems and incredibly fragrant flowers; Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ has the most brilliant color (a deep violet blue); and Lavandula multifida (fernleaf lavender) has the most beautiful leaves.

But now I’m trying something new: two variegated varieties. I stumbled upon them at Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento a few weeks ago. I wasn’t totally surprised to find out that variegated lavenders exist—it seems logical that they would—but I can’t recall ever having seen any in person before.

Here they are: Lavandula × intermedia ‘Platinum Blonde’ on the left, and Lavender allardii ‘Meerlo’ on the right.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mid-June 2016 front yard update

Spring and fall are when we do most of our gardening. Summer is for leaning back and enjoying the fruit of our labor—sometimes from inside, through the windows, when it’s too hot. That will be the case next week. The weather peeps are forecasting 105°F for Wednesday (41°C), and as hot as that is, it’s still cooler than the torrid 119°F (48°C) expected for Phoenix, AZ this coming Monday. Yikes!

For now, we’re enjoying a bit of June gloom with temps in the low 80s. Overcast skies make for better photographs, so here are some quick snaps from the front yard. They’ll come in handy next year to assess growth and progress year over year.


Monday, June 13, 2016

1/1/16: The Living Desert, Palm Desert, CA (2 of 2)

Part 1 of my post about The Living Desert in Palm Desert, California ended in the Baja Palm Oasis. From there I headed towards the Opuntia Garden and the Barrel Cactus Garden. I didn’t try to cover each garden systematically. Instead, I simply took photos of scenes and plants that caught my eye. That’s what I typically do, and it works for me.


As I was taking photos, I began to chat with a nice lady who lives near The Living Desert. She’s a member and goes there almost every morning to walk. Sure beats the gym, doesn’t it?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

1/1/16: The Living Desert, Palm Desert, CA (1 of 2)

This year it seems I’m forever behind on posts about places I’ve visited. While I’m finally caught on the things we saw during our spring break trip to California’s Central Coast and our three-day trip to Victoria, BC in early April, I still owe you several posts from my desert trip in late December/early January. These aren’t throwaway posts either; they’re about destinations that were among the highlights of my trip.

Today’s post is 1 of 2 about The Living Desert, an intriguing mix of zoo and botanical garden located in Palm Desert, one of the many affluent communities that form the urban sprawl around Palm Springs, California.


Recognize the shrub with what looks like reddish orange leaves? Those are actually branches. This is Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’, which many of us grow in containers. If planted in the ground in the right climate, it can grow to 25 ft.

The Living Desert was founded in 1970 as a nature center to preserve a part of the local desert ecosystem from encroaching development. Since then, it has grown to 1,800 acres, 1,000 of which are in their natural state. In the early 1980s the scope of the organization’s preservation efforts was expanded to include endangered species from Africa.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Garden that Love Built: Abkhazi Garden, Victoria, BC

Some may not be willing to admit it, but all but the grinchiest among us enjoy a good love story. And a good love story gets even better when it plays out against the backdrop of war.

Our story starts in 1922 in Paris when 20-year old Peggy Pemberton-Carter, born in Shanghai, orphaned at age three, and raised by a world-traveling domineering adoptive mother, meets 23-year old exiled and penniless Georgian prince Nicholas Abkhazi. Sparks fly, but Peggy’s mother, threatened by the budding romance between her socialite daughter and the pauper prince, whisks Peggy back to Shanghai. Peggy and Nicholas stay in touch through letters but are kept apart by geography and circumstances.


Then comes the chaos and upheaval of World War II. Nicholas is interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, and Peggy in one near Shanghai. She keeps a diary during these tumultuous years and later writes a book entitled A Curious Cage (published in 1981 when she was 79). After her release from camp in 1945, she uses a small stash of traveler’s checks she’d kept hidden in a talcum powder can to secure passage to San Francisco. From there she travels to Victoria where she has friends and purchases the 1-acre rocky lot that will become Abkhazi Garden.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

More cactus flowers

A while ago I posted photos of this year’s first echinopsis flower in the front yard. The other day two more flowers opened up: one on the same salmon-colored echinopsis as before (see below after the jump) and one on this one:


I’ve long lost the tag but according to this post from 2013, it’s Echinopsis ‘Johnson Hybrid’. Harry Johnson was a Southern California breeder who created a lot of different hybrids in many different colors from the 1930s through the 1960s. He died in 1987 at the age of 95. Here is an interesting write-up about him.


The flower of this hybrid is a rich red.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents June 2016 update

Many of you follow Candy “Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents” Suter, either on her eponymous blog or on her popular Facebook page (18,000 likes and counting). Because of ongoing health issues, Candy hasn’t been as active on her blog or in her own garden, but she’s still very much a succulent fanatic.

I visited Candy yesterday to help her with a very strange pest, and I’m happy to report that in spite of almost constant back pain, she is in good spirits and her garden looks great, a few weeds aside (who doesn’t have those!).

Before we get to the mystery pest, let’s take a stroll in Candy’s backyard.


Wherever you look, there are succulents, sometimes packed into objects that only loosely meet the definition of “container,” like this old Radio Flyer wagon:


Saturday, June 4, 2016

My, you look weird

The other evening we noticed these weird characters on the candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) in the front yard:


My wife snapped this photo on her cell phone.
Since it was dusk, the photo turned out grainy and fuzzy,
but you get the idea.

From a distance, they looked like very large and very orange ants.

What weird creatures were these?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Agaves and tacos: El Chorlito in San Simeon

Today is the climax of this week’s heat wave. if the forecasts are right, the temperature will drop 20 degrees by Monday. I can’t wait!

Since it’s so hot here at home, let’s wrap up our spring break visit to California’s Central Coast with a roadside quickie. As we were heading back to Morro Bay after visiting Hearst Castle, I spotted this pink building by the side of the road in the small town of San Simeon:


Needless to say it was the tall tree yuccas, the cactus and the agaves that made me pull over to take a closer look.


It turned out it was a Mexican restaurant called El Chorlito (chorlito is Spanish for plover). According to the sign, it’s been there since 1979, so it must be decent enough to still be in business. We didn’t eat there so I can’t comment on the food, but I sure liked the dense and colorful plantings.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Less can be nice, too

The heat wave that started on Memorial Day isn’t letting up, so let’s go back to Morro Bay on the Central Coast.

Just up the street from the stunning succulent garden I showed you in this post is this property:


It may seem stark, especially compared to the other garden, but I found the l limited plant palette and the high-contrast design quite appealing.

Minimalism is an interesting thing. It’s the antithesis of what I practice, yet I cannot help but fall for its promise of simplicity and serenity. A minimalistic garden is like the soothing sound of ocean waves (who doesn’t like that!) while my garden is like the frantic buzzing of a beehive.

Ultimately, though, our tastes and preferences are what they are, and we should embrace them. That means I’ll never have a minimalistic garden and I need to stop feeling guilty for being a hoarder and cramming too many plants into what little space we have.