Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book gift ideas for gardeners

Gardeners love plants, but plants don't necessarily make great gifts unless you know exactly what the recipient really wants. Gift certificates are handy but impersonal. That's why I think books are the ideal gift for gardeners. Even if you give a book your gardening friend or relative would not have picked themselves, it might nudge them to explore something new.

This list is fairly random but it contains books that stood out to me in 2017. At the bottom I've added four books on my own wish list. Maybe I'll find one or two them under the Christmas tree.

All books are available from the usual sources.


Designing with Succulents, Second Edition by Debra Lee Baldwin

This long-awaited update to Debra Lee Baldwin's classic exceeds every expectation I had. Completely rewritten and reorganized with hundreds of new photos, this book is the perfect gift for any succulent lover, beginner or expert.

Click here to read my in-depth review.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ruth Bancroft passes away at age 109

On Sunday, November 26, Ruth Bancroft passed away at her home in Walnut Creek. She was 109 years old. I will miss her greatly even though I met her only once, briefly. Somehow I had thought she would live forever and that at some point there would be another opportunity to visit with her.

Ruth Bancroft and RBG curator Brian Kemble who has been working alongside Ruth since 1980.
Photo © 2016 by Stephen Lysaght. Used with Stephen's permission.

Ruth started her now iconic succulent garden in 1972 at the age of 63. I bet she had no idea that she would live another 47 years to see her labor of love mature and inspire tens of thousands of gardeners to plant dry gardens as well.

At the time, she was often asked why she would embark on such a big project at her age when it was more than likely that she would never see the plants grow to maturity. This was her reply: “Well, who cares if I’m around or not? Someone will be around. And if I don’t plant it then nobody will get to see it.”

We should all live and garden by this tenet.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A must-have guide for California gardeners and visitors: The California Garden Tour by Donald Olson

The most useful book on our recent Pacific Northwest trips has been The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The 60 Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by Donald Olson, published by Timber Press in 2014. Now Don Olson has written a companion guide for California: The California Garden Tour: The 50 Best Gardens to Visit in the Golden State.

Selfishly speaking, the timing couldn't have been better. I'm planning a late-December trip to Southern California, and I've been using The California Garden Tour for inspiration and information. In addition to big names like the Huntington, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Getty Center and Villa, Don also takes readers to gardens I'm not familiar with, including Virginia Robinson Gardens, Hortense Miller Garden and Rancho Los Alamitos. I can't wait to explore them in just five weeks.

Now let's take a closer look at the book:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Backyard overhaul: slow but steady

In a recent post, my friend Kathy who blogs at GardenBook talked about the "hateful areas" in her garden. I can relate only too well. In recent years, it seems most of our backyard has become a hateful area. With our attention firmly focused on the front garden, the backyard has fallen into benign neglect.

That is about to change. Actually, it already has started to change.

The area I'm going to show you today is outside the dining room slider; the desert bed we created in 2014 is on the other side of the fence. A year ago, we had an 'Aristocrat' pear and a clumping bamboo removed (read about it here) to create a blank slate. The first new plants to go in were an Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' and a Grevillea 'Flora Mason' (see here). In recent months I've been slowly adding more plants. This area only gets a few hours of direct sun but is fairly bright most of the day because of light reflecting off the house.

Let's take a closer look.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mystery plant in the backyard

Do you like plant mysteries? If so, I have a good one for you. In recent weeks I've noticed this volunteer in the backyard:

When it was smaller, I thought it was a weed but out of curiosity I decided to let it grow. However, as it got taller, I became even more baffled. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My new favorite front yard in town

In my previous post I showed you thickets of weedy Agave americana growing in two front yards just a block apart. On the same street I made another discovery—one that almost had me slam on the brakes with excitement. (I managed to contain myself enough to safely pull over to the curb.)

Take a look:

This is the kind of front yard I would have if I started with a blank slate: rectangular terraced planting areas in different sizes and colors filled with a variety of succulents and waterwise perennials.

I love everything about this design. Hands-down, this is my new favorite front yard in Davis. The fact that I discovered it purely by chance makes me wonder what other treasures there are close to home? Instead of visiting gardens elsewhere, I need to spend more time exploring my own town! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Agave americana eating the world

I love agaves. All of them. Well, almost. There's one species I'm not fond of, and it happens to be the most common one in gardens around here: Agave americana. The reason for that is very simple: Agave americana is a baby-making machine. It pups so prolifically that you could supply your entire neighborhood with offsets and never run out. Just take a look at the photos below, and you'll see what I mean:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Succulents in glorious B&W

I recently participated in a black & white photo challenge on Facebook: for seven days, post a B&W photo of your everyday life, no explanation, no people. What initially seemed like a chore quickly became more fun than I had expected—and the catalyst for this post.

Nobody sees the world in black & white—not even dogs—so B&W photos are, by their very nature, an abstraction. In the absence of color, shapes, textures, and the relationship between light and dark take on outsize significance.

The natural world has been a favorite subject of B&W photographers since the invention of the medium. There is no shortage of beautiful images of plants and flowers—just take a look at the floral work of Tom Baril and Ron van Dongen—but succulents have traditionally taken a backseat to less prickly favorites such as tulips and calla lilies.

There are exceptions. Imogen Cunningham photographed agaves and aloes in the 1920s, and Brett Weston, son of Edward, made images of cactus, agaves and other succulents from the 1930s on.

Aeoniums, Succulent Gardens, Castroville, CA

Sunday, November 5, 2017

More new plants, as if I needed them!

Prepare yourselves for a shocking confession: I've never met a plant (sale) I don't like.

OK, you're probably not all that surprised to hear that. After all, I regularly write about my plant sale escapades.

The saga continued this past weekend.

On Saturday, the UC Davis Arboretum held its final plant sale of the season. Traditionally, this is a clearance sale where all remaining plants are 10% off. This year they went all out and upped the discount to 25%—with Arboretum members getting an additional 10% off, for a total of 35%.

To sweeten the deal even more, many plants were marked down to $6. Take 35% off $6, and the final price for those plants was $3.90! Practically free!

What could I do? I simply had to go.

I met up with fellow blogger Kathy Stoner (click here to visit her blog GardenBook) and we spent a intensely focused hour and half on the very serious business of plant shopping. Both of us had gone through the inventory list ahead of time and marked plants of interest. That helped us shop efficiently and productively.

Here is my haul:

My plant haul from the UC Davis Arboretum clearance sale on November 4, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From agave to yucca: more from the Danger Garden

Remember this song from the 1986 Tom Cruise movie Top Gun?

Highway to the danger zone
Right into the danger zone
Highway to the danger zone 
Gonna take you right into the danger zone

Substitute "danger zone" with "Danger Garden" and you have the theme song of Loree Bohl's popular blog. After all, its motto is "Careful, you can poke an eye out."

As I said in this post, I didn't lose an eye or any other vital body part while exploring Loree's front garden on my mid-September trip to Portland, Oregon. But more danger lurks around the back, behind this impressive agave gate designed by Loree's artist husband Andrew (read more about the gate here).