Saturday, July 30, 2016

Desert Garden at The Huntington: New World

In my previous post I covered the Old World section of the Huntington Desert Garden. It’s located near the top of a rise, adjacent to the Desert Garden Conservatory. From here the land gently slopes downward towards the New World section. On a cold night, the temperature difference between the top of the rise and the bottom can be as much as five degrees (source: The Botanical Gardens at the Huntington, see below). This greatly benefits the aloes, planted higher up. The cacti and other New World succulents planted further down the slope are apparently better able to handle the colder temperatures—not that it ever gets truly cold in Pasadena (zone 10a).


Teaser of what you’re going to see in this post

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Desert Garden at The Huntington: Old World

The Huntington in San Marino, CA is one of California’s great estates. Established by businessman Henry Huntington in the early 1900s on what was originally a 600-acre ranch, the Huntington comprises a world-class library, art collections and 120 acres of gardens.


At the entrance to the Desert Garden: giant timber bamboo (Bambusa sp.), tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae) and blue foxtail agave (Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’)

The most famous of these is the 10-acre Desert Garden. It was started in 1907 when garden superintendent William Hertrich, a trained landscape gardener who had come to California from Germany in 1903, convinced Henry Huntington to plant cacti on a hillside that was very visible from the main drive but where little else would grow. As Hertrich recalls in his book The Huntington Botanical Gardens, 1905-1949: Personal Recollections of William Hertrich, “[Huntington] thoroughly disliked all types of cacti. His dislike was readily understandable … while backing away from some grading equipment [when supervising construction work for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Arizona desert] he had had his first painful and never-to-be-forgotten introduction to the prickly cactus.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

California Garden at The Huntington

The first time I visited The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, in December 2014, the entrance area was a construction site. Things looked completely different a year later when I met up with fellow garden bloggers Denise of A Growing Obsession, Gail of Piece of Eden (and her husband who took lots of photos), and Luisa of Crow and Raven. The $60 million Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center was finally open.

In addition to 52,000 sq. ft. of visitor, conference and educational facilities, the entrance complex also includes 6½ acres of newly established gardens which connect directly to the world-renowned Desert Garden, our real destination.


The buffer zone between the parking lot and the entrance is an expanse of European gray sedge (Carex divulsa) originally planted as small plugs spaced 18 inches apart. The “meadow” is studded with California pepper trees (Schinus molle), octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana) and different aloe varieties. It shows how beautiful a simple low-water/low-maintenance planting scheme can be that does away entirely with traditional turf grass.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book review: Protea: A Guide to Cultivated Species and Varieties

Writing more book reviews is always near the top of my want-to-do list for this blog. I don’t have a good reason why I haven’t followed through, but I promise that I’m going to do better. And it will start right now.

Years ago I became interested in the protea family (Proteaceae), which includes my favorite shrubs such as proteas, leucadendrons and leucospermums from South Africa, and grevilleas and banksias from Australia. However, the authoritative reference book on these wonderful plants, The Protea Book: A Guide to Cultivated Proteaceae by Lewis J. Matthews (Timber Press 2002), was long out print and was commanding astronomical prices on the second-hand market.

Fortunately, Lewis Matthews has now written a new book that is both an update and a sequel to the original: Protea: A Guide to Cultivated Species and Varieties was published in June 2016 by University of Hawai'i Press.


On the left: Grevillea ‘Flora Mason’

At 232 pages, it’s not a massive tome but it includes a wealth of information—and over 300 truly spectacular photographs taken by the author.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cactus flowers and other ephemeral summer beauties

This summer has been busier than usual because of that pesky thing called work—you know, the time-consuming activity that gets in the way of fun but pays the bills. While I’ve had less time for gardening (hence fewer posts), summer tends to be a lazy season in the garden anyway. It’s a time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your earlier work. In my garden that includes admiring the flowers of cacti and other succulents.

Here are three examples.

The first one is a popular Brazilian cactus, Parodia magnifica. Mine is still solitary, probably because it’s confined to a pot, but in the ground it forms a rather extensive colony over time. The flowers are a pale yellow, with translucent petals resembling chiffon.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Oasis of green: Bowyer Japanese garden

The last garden my partner-in-crime Kathy Stoner and I visited during the Garden Conservancy’s Spring 2016 East Bay Open Day was the Bowyers’ Japanese garden in the hills of Orinda. After the artistic exuberance of Keeyla Meadows’s and Marcia Donahue’s gardens, this garden was like a palate-cleansing sorbet after a rich meal.


I love riots of colors and textures as well as thoughtfully placed art objects that express the owner’s personal taste. However, after a while, the constant onslaught of visual stimulation becomes too much and I begin to long for the soothing tranquility of a space like the Bowyers’ garden.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

UC Davis Arboretum on a Saturday morning in July

My favorite place to walk in Davis is the UC Davis Arboretum. This 100-acre public garden on the UC Davis campus is just a few miles from my house and it offers a quick and easy way to get away from it all. Plus, I seem to find something new to photograph almost every time I go (and have my camera along).

A couple of weeks ago I started at the eastern edge of the Arboretum where the Australian Collection is located. Yesterday I began at Putah Creek Lodge closer to the western edge. I walked through the Eric E. Conn Acacia Grove, the Southwest USA/Mexican Collection and then the South American Collection before checking out the progress of the plantings in and adjacent to the Putah Creek Lodge parking lot. You can follow along on this interactive map of the Arboretum.


Few trees are as majestic as the California valley oak (Quercus lobatus). These specimens, while decades ago, are still young‘uns.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden summer smörgåsbord

On Sunday I joined the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society for a field trip to the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. The first event of the day was a workshop on hardy Australian plants given by Jo O'Connell, owner of Australian Native Plants Nursery in Ventura County (Southern California) and one of the country's leading experts on the subject.

Jo has been guru of mine for a number of years, and I'm happy to report that she was every bit as wonderful as I had expected her to be, both as a person and as a plant expert.

I didn't take photos during her presentation (intellectual property and all) but you can find much of the information on Jo's web site under Help.

Jo had brought a selection of plants for sale, and I bought three 1-gallon plants: Grevillea 'Flora Mason', Callistemon pinifolius (yellow form), and Goodenia viscida. I’ll have more information and photos as I get these new additions into the ground, probably later in the year.

As an aside, I found out that Jo has a cabin on her property that she rents out as an Airbnb. This got me thinking about a potential winter trip to Southern California. The wheels in my head are turning….


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tranquil backyard paradise: Potomac Waterworks

I thought I would continue my coverage of the Garden Conservancy’s Spring 2016 East Bay Open Day, which I attended with fellow garden blogger Kathy Stoner of GardenBook. Not quite able to remember what day it had been, I started to look for my photos in the June 2016 folder on my hard drive. Nothing. What about May? Nope. But there’s no way it could have been in April, that was too long ago! Think again. It was in April, April 23, to be exact. I know that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly, but based on the experience I just had, I must really be getting old.

On that philosophical note, let’s check out Potomac Waterworks in a quiet Oakland neighborhood. I had visited this garden in June 2014 during another East Bay Open Day and had liked it very much. But I was in for a big surprise: While the front yard was pretty much the same, the backyard was radically different—and even better than before.


The house started life in the 1920s as a 700 sq.ft. cottage and was expanded several times by the second owners, Robin and Paul Cowley, beginning in the 1970s. Paul Cowley, a leading Bay Area designer of water features and pond systems for gardens, designed the garden as a private sanctuary. When I visited in 2014, the backyard featured a koi pond and a bog crossed by “floating” stepping stones, showcasing techniques he had pioneered over a 40 year career. Page down to see how it has changed.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer vacation in California’s Eastern Sierra

I haven’t posted much in the last two weeks because we’ve had friends from Australia staying with us. Last week we spent four days in the Eastern Sierra, the vast high desert east of the Sierra Nevada range. Sparsely populated and spectacularly beautiful, this part of California is a wonderland of mountains and lakes, sagebrush and tumbleweed, and even the occasional ghost town. In the “olden days” my wife and I spent quite a bit of time of here, camping and exploring. In the last 15 years, our visits have been few and far between, but the Eastern Sierra is always in our heart.


Mono Lake at sunset

Our home base was in Mammoth Lakes, the largest and most developed town in the Eastern Sierra. Located at an elevation of 7,880 feet (2,400 m), Mammoth Lakes is a world-class ski resort which in the off-season (summer) offers remarkably reasonable accommodations and easy access to alpine lakes, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and a host of other outdoor activities. It’s a great spot to explore everything the area has to offer.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Colorful bounty at Davis Farmers Market

With friends visiting, my focus has been away from our garden. We spent four days in California’s Eastern Sierra (post coming up) and have been doing things around town that we aren’t doing as much as we should. This includes going to the Davis Farmers Market, rated the #9 farmers market in the country by USA Today.


Held every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning, it’s a great opportunity to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other products, including baked goods, cheeses, jams, juices, oils, etc. This time I took my camera along to capture the colorful cornucopia.