Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Agave pumila rot—can it be stopped?

Once upon a time, I had a perfect agave I loved very much. While it wasn't exactly rare, it was definitely uncommon, especially at this size. Its name was Agave pumila:

I bought it in March 2016 at Grow Nursery in Cambria on the Central Coast of California and planted it in the ground in the smaller of the two succulent mounds that replaced our front lawn.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Desert splendor at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

On Wednesday, December 28, 2016 I visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) outside of Tucson for the seventh time. Over the years I've become quite familiar with the park, but there is so much that changes from year to year that I always find something new to get excited about. Plus, who could ever get tired of such a view:

View from the Vista Ramada near the entrance
Founded in 1952, the ASDM encompasses 97 acres of Sonoran Desert west of Tucson, 47 of which are developed. According to their website, there are “two miles of walking paths, 16 individual gardens, 1,200 native plant species and 56,000 individual plants.” Judging from the demographics I typically see, I’d say most visitors, especially families, come for the animals (a new aquarium opened in 2013). But I'm sure there are others like me who are there for the plants.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Back to Victoria, British Columbia: Beacon Hill Park in late summer

Winter is my least favorite season, and I constantly look for opportunities to get away--either physically or at least mentally. While I still have quite a few posts left to write about my recent Arizona trip, I decided today to head north instead of south: back to Victoria, British Columbia. In late August, my wife and I helped our oldest daughter get settled into her new life as a student at the University of Victoria

While daughter #1 was doing student things, my wife and I took the opportunity to explore more places in Victoria that we hadn't seen on our previous trips (1 | 2). This included Beacon Hill Park, a 200-acre urban park stretching from the Strait of Juan de Fuca almost all the way to downtown (here's a map). I didn't know what to expect, other than a large public park, but in hindsight I shouldn't have been surprised at the stunning displays of flowers for which Victoria is world-famous. I don't know how much the city spends on public landscaping, but it must be significantly higher than other cities its size since even the medians in streets far away from where tourists stray are full of beautifully maintained flower beds. I had fallen in love with Victoria on my first trip, and this love affair deepened even more on this, my third, visit.

While the climate of Victoria is fairly mild, it is isn't frost-free (this winter they had snow on several occasions), but there's an undeniable lushness. Daughter #1 definitely could have picked a far worse place to go to college!

We saw rock outcroppings like these in many places, especially in the eastern suburbs where we were staying

Sunday, January 22, 2017

First 2017 look at the aloes at UC Davis

Rain, rain², rain³. I don't remember the last time we had so much rain. And fog. That had been absent, too, in recent winters. The difference between this January and the past half dozen Januaries couldn't be greater. At the same time, it feels like plants are a bit slower getting going, maybe because they're busy trying not to drown.

I took advantage of a break in the rain to check on the aloes on the UC Davis campus. As you'll see, a few are blooming already but others are still weeks away. This matches what's going on in my garden.

Aloes in the mist outside the Botanical Conservatory--a common sight this year

Yellow-flowering form of Aloe arborescens

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lodge on the Desert, Tucson, AZ

When I was researching places to stay for my December 2016 Arizona trip, I was trying to find a sensible balance between comfort and price. I didn't want to stay in a fleabag motel just to save a buck (been there, done that, even had fun doing it back in the day), but I didn't want to overspend either. Fortunately, Arizona is still a bargain compared to California, and finding a reasonably priced but nice hotel is not difficult in Phoenix and Tucson.

For my December 2015 trip I'd found a great Groupon deal for the Lodge on the Desert in Tucson. I loved my room—far more spacious and luxurious than what I'm used to—but what I loved even more were the beautifully landscaped grounds. Last year many of the cactus at the Lodge on the Desert were adorned with Styrofoam cups to protect their growing tips from the cold. While this looked comical, it did impair the overall appearance.

Eager to find out what the landscaping looks like without Styrofoam cups, I decided to stay there again this year. There was no Groupon deal this time, but I was able to use my (gasp!) AARP discount. (Full disclosure: I'm nowhere near retirement, but I'm a smidge over 50 and hence eligible for AARP membership.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 3 of 3)

Part 1     ↔     Part 2     ↔     Part 3 

On December 27, 2016 I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ—my fourth visit in as many years. This is the final installment of my trip report; click the links above to go to part 1 and part 2.

What you see in the first photo below is the south side of Webster Center

The large tree in the upper left is a Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)

The wall low wall encloses Eliot Patio. That's where the next 10+ photos were taken. 

My favorite tree: palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana), an acacia from the Mexican state of Sonora

Monday, January 16, 2017


As weather patterns have changed over the years, the dense tule fog we used to get in the winter has become a rare thing. I remember days, even weeks, of unbroken fog that drove people mad; now fog is something people comment on in an excited voice, almost as if they're talking about a double rainbow.

The last couple of nights have been foggy and eerily quiet. Yesterday the fog lasted all morning and I took the opportunity to drive out to the Yolo Bypass off Interstate 80 that separates Davis from West Sacramento (and Sacramento) on the other side of the Sacramento River. With the opening of the Sacramento Weir last Tuesday for the first time in 11 years, the Bypass has become an inland sea. While the fog made it impossible to see very far, the partially submerged trees made for hauntingly beautiful photographs.

Tree silhouette along Interstate 80

The beginning of the Yolo Causeway on Interstate 80

Friday, January 13, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 2 of 3)

Part 1     ↔     Part 3

In part 1 of my post about the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix, Arizona I showed you the Entry Garden, the Desert Terrace Garden and the Desert Portal (click here for a map). This post will cover the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, the Agave Yucca Forest and the connecting sections in between. Part 3 will cover the Webster Center and Ullman Terrace, the Heritage Garden, and the Center for Desert Living Trail.

I visited on Tuesday, December 27, 2016, and by 11 a.m. I was wishing I had left my hoodie in the car. By mid-afternoon, temperatures had climbed into the low 70s. That's why I love winter in the Arizona desert!

One of my favorite places to sit in the DBG. Behind it is a  toothpick cactus (Stetsonia coryne)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Rain: we asked for it, we got it

After five years of epic drought, California has swung to the other extreme. A series of wet tropical storms has been dumping heavy amounts of rain (and snow in the higher elevations) on California, raising the specter of serious flooding in many areas. This video was shot by Sacramento Bee reporter Sue Morrow flying into Sacramento International Airport on Monday, January 9.

It's too early to tell what effect all this precipitation will have on the drought, but the longer the rains continue (another one is buffeting us as I write this) the brighter the outlook is.

But I do know that the soil in our garden is way beyond the saturation point. Puddles are forming everywhere. It's a good thing that I've started to plant succulents and other plants that require sharp drainage on mounds. So far they're sitting hit and relatively dry. All I want right now is a break in the rain--how about a week of warm and sunny days so things can dry out?

Backyard; the area on the left is the new bed I'm working on

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book review: Gardening with Foliage First

There are two major reasons why I buy gardening books: I want to expand my knowledge, and I want to be inspired. The best books combine both aspects. In light of the wealth of information (and beautiful photography) available for free online, it’s getting ever harder for publishers to get the attention of the book-buying public. But Timber Press found a way to cut through the noise with a new book to be published later in January: Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

This hefty paperback (8 x 10½ in., 340 pages, and weighing in at a surprising 2½ lbs.) introduces 127 “dazzling combinations that pair the beauty of leaves with flowers, bark, berries, and more.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Desert Botanical Garden, December 2016 (part 1 of 3)

◀ Part 1     ↔     Part 2

The Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix is one of my favorite plant places in the world. It comes as no surprise that it was one of the highlights of my Arizona trip last week – a trip that was not lacking in astonishing sights. Since the DBG was the first destination I visited, I want to feature it first in my in-depth coverage of all the marvelous things I saw in Phoenix and Tucson.

Desert Towers by Dale Chihuly at the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden. Notice how the glass sculptures mirror the shape of the yuccas growing next to them.
This post focuses on the Entry Garden, the Desert Terrace Garden and the Desert Portal (click here for a map). The other two posts will cover the Cactus and Succulent Galleries, the Agave Yucca Forest, the Webster Center and Ullman Terrace, the Heritage Garden, and the Center for Desert Living Trail. Because of time constraints, I skipped the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail and the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail this year.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Palo verde ripped in half

Well, not quite, but almost...

Tuesday night was rainy and so windy that I was uneasy going to bed. I'm sure you're familiar with the feeling: The wind was howling, and you just know that no good will come of it. Still, the worst I expected was leaf litter and general debris everywhere, which indeed was the case the next morning.

In fact, I almost missed this as I was walking the perimeter of our property looking for damage:

This is standing in the driveway looking towards our neighbor's property. The first thing I noticed was the broken Aloe cryptopoda inflorescence. And then I realized that it was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Agaves I brought home from my Arizona trip

I got back from my Arizona trip on New Year’s Eve, barely an hour before midnight. I was too tired to unpack my suitcase that night, but the next morning I was only too eager to find out how my agaves from Greg Starr had fared.

Agaves from Greg Starr in my hotel room in Tucson

Quick answer: not too badly.