Ruth Bancroft Garden July 2017 private garden tour, part 3

The third garden I visited as part of the  Ruth Bancroft Garden's tour of four private gardens was in Walnut Creek. I had blogged about it before, in November 2015, but this time I got to meet the homeowner, Julia, and see the backyard as well.

A Google Maps Street View image from May 2014 shows foundation plantings (boxwood?), lawn, and raised beds with flowering pink roses. I suspect this is the way the front yard had been for a long time. In contrast, this is what it looks like now:

"Day and night" does not begin to describe it.

Of course, everybody has a different aesthetic, but for me this front yard checks all the boxes: Agaves—check. Cactus—check. Aloes—check. Acacias—check. South African shrubs—check. Ornamental grasses—check.

The curb appeal of this home is off the charts.

The tree in the center is a zigzag wattle (Acacia merinthophora)

And the view towards the East Bay hills isn't shabby either. (I live in a completely flat town with absolutely zero views so I'm easy to impress.)

Agave americana 'Marginata'

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

Pennisetum sp.

Opuntia gosseliana and Agave 'Blue Glow'

Agave potatorum

A presentation board next to the front door gave more background information about the evolution of this garden:
Inspired by the Ruth Bancroft garden the new drought tolerant garden replaced the conventional lawns and flower beds that previously existed. 
The project was completed in 2014 after the removal of over 2000 square feet of lawn and several liquidambar trees that were original to the property. These trees have been replaced with Acacia and Palo Verde trees. 
The original retaining walls were retained but were re-textured to provide an updated rock wall effect in soft desert tones. The design layout for the new desert-scape was designed and implemented by Linda MacSwain Design of Lafayette.
Many homegrown succulents and cacti were utilized in the garden and supplemented by plants and trees from the RB nursery and various local nurseries. Subtle undulations and a dry creek bed were created to realize the lush desert look and were complimented with large rock outcroppings using boulders. And a gravel mulch using 3 different types of gravel.
The result is a dramatic and dramatically different landscape for the large wrap around corner lot. Water consumption was more than halved but as you can see growth is still prolific for the cactus and succulent varieties chosen.

Another Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'. After seeing so many healthy specimens growing in the full sun in what essentially is the same climate as Davis, I'm inspired to try again with a larger plant after losing three 4-inchers.

Aloe tomentosa, one of only a few white-flowering aloes

Aloe marlothii of different sizes

I'm not a fan of Agave americana, but these look good (both the blue and the variegated)

Desert Museum palo verde (Parkinsonia 'Desert Museum') and Agave americana 'Marginata'

Agave americana and Hesperaloe parviflora flower stalks

Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga and Dudleya brittonii

Agave paryii

The weeping blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula') in the front yard is a leftover from the old days. Some people may think it's completely out of place next to agaves and other succulents. Yes, it is, but for me that makes it all the more special. I'm all about whacky combinations, and I think this one is pretty special indeed.

Yucca linearifolia (left), Agave vivipara 'Marginata' (middle), Agave americana (back)

Opuntia 'Old Mexico'

Another Agave americana

Ruckbeckia hirta 'Prairie Sun'

Flanking the driveway--and entrance to the backyard

In part 4 of this series I'll show you Julia's backyard––and take you next door where the neighbors have been inspired to start their own succulent garden.



  1. This garden is truly impressive. Although I've had good luck with Acacia 'Cousin Itt', I was surprised to see it here in what appears to be a full sun setting. Now I'm tempted to try pushing its boundaries in my own garden. As an aside, can you identify the plants in the center foreground of photos 1 and 2? They look like sheared specimens of Nandina and possibly Loropetalum but perhaps I'm imagining things. While I know Nandina is drought tolerant, I didn't think it could be sheared like that, and it surprises me that Loropetalum can handle such dry conditions (although a quick check with San Marcos Growers suggests that it's more drought tolerant than I realized).

    1. The one right at the edge is Nandina 'Fire Power'. It's a tidy grower. Looks like its been trimmed a bit around the perimeter but not sheared. The other one...a dark-foliaged Berberis? I've seen them here and there up in Nor Cal.

  2. I'm curious about the Cousin Itt's in full sun too -- mine are almost in full shade in summer with the fringe tree fully leafed out, and they are struggling to get established. The opuntia, Blue Glow, and purple setcreasea against a salmon-colored wall...yum!

    1. I had three small 'Cousin Itt', and they languished in a spot just outside the kitchen slider where they only got 1-2 hours of sun. The specimens at the RBG are in full sun, too, and seem to like it.

  3. I always find an excuse to drive by this garden. I still remember the first day I stumbled upon it and was thankful that no one was driving behind me. The owners are such great ambassadors for the smart California garden. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I love how you phrased that: "great ambassadors for the smart California garden."

      You were the one you originally suggested I drive by there. I loved the garden then and still do!

  4. Beautiful front garden, much better than the back. The Cedrus looks great with the xerics.

    My 3rd try at 'Cousin Itt' looks like it will be a goner, too.

    1. I liked the front better as well, not being much a pool person. I'm slightly obsessed with the Cedrus, I must admit. What a cool combo!

      'Cousin Itt' *cannot* possibly be that difficult. It's a frigging acacia! They're supposed to be easy to grow! What's up with that????


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