Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fall plant sale at UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The plant sale at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park on October 6 was all about California natives (see this post). In contrast, the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arboretum sale on October 13 combined California natives (offered by the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Native Plant Society) with plants propagated from the Arboretum collection, mostly Australian and South African natives.

California Native Plant Society area at the UCSC Arboretum fall sale

I had never been to a UCSC sale before, but considering the plant list was full of weird and wonderful varieties, I expected quite a crowd. And I was right. By the time the gate opened to members at 10:00, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I had arrived 25 minutes early and I was in a great spot.

The closer we got to 10:00, the more the anticipation (and impatience) was building. Arboretum director Martin Quigley explained the rules—carts or boxes to be dropped off in the holding area; none allowed in the plant area because of the narrow aisles and the large number of people—and then it was off to the races. It was a scene not unlike the start of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, minus the horses and guns. People were actually running!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

California native plant sale at Tilden Park in Berkeley

This fall, plants sales have been happening at a frantic pace. Or maybe I'm just noticing it more because I've been going to more of them than I usually do.

In any case, you'd think I wouldn't need more plants, especially after my Portland haul. But I got those additions into the ground very quickly and I cleared more space elsewhere by removing dead, dying, and/or underperforming plants. And since gaps must be filled lest there be a disturbance in the force, I simply had to continue shopping. Just like Sarah Winchester had to continue adding on to the Winchester Mystery House in order to the appease the spirits that were haunting her.


Above is one of the many rolling hills you see as you drive to the Bay Area from Davis on Interstate 80. In late winter and early spring they are often a vibrant green. In the summer they turn golden brown (some claim California's nickname, The Golden State, was inspired by these hills). I love those hills, and they're never more beautiful than when there are puffy white clouds in a deep blue sky.

As you can see, going to plant sales has other benefits, too!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: back garden in September 2018 (part 2)

Danger Garden back (part 1)

If you think of the Danger Garden as a symphony, the front garden is the first movement, the front half of the back garden the second, and the rear is the third movement with its rousing finale.

Looking back to what I showed you in my previous post:


Even though it's not huge, the chartreuse Circle Pot from Potted is like a beacon: You can see it from just about anywhere in the back garden.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: back garden in September 2018 (part 1)

Danger Garden front


Now that you've seen what the Danger Garden's public face looks like—the front garden—let's go down the rabbit hole walk through the magic gate into the back garden.

The agave gate was a birthday gift to Loree by her husband Andrew, a mixed-media artist who creates intricate pieces out of paper, wire and other materials. He designed the gate himself and had it manufactured locally in Portland. You can read all about it in this Danger Garden post from October 2015.



But before we enter the back garden, I want to draw your attention to the hanging pots on the garage wall, one planted with Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' and the other with a small Agave 'Felipe Otero'. The two pots are very different, yet perfectly balanced.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Return to the Danger Garden: front garden in September 2018


Many of you follow Loree Bohl's blog Danger Garden. If you're not familiar with it and want to know what it's all about, the byline is a good clue: "Careful, you could poke an eye out."

Loree loves spiky plants, and she's not apologetic about it. When you walk through her garden, you're wise to watch your step. Unlike plants that take abuse lying down (literally), many denizens of the Danger Garden know how to defend themselves. That's one reason why I love it.

Another reason: Loree is fearless when it comes to plant selection. I'm sure she looks at USDA hardiness zones but she's just as likely to ignore them if she really wants a certain plant. After all, each garden is different, and unless you're willing to experiment—and accept the failures that come with it—you're never going to know what will really grow in your own garden.

The most striking thing about the Danger Garden, though, is how skillfully Loree's plants are combined. Every placement is carefully considered—and reconsidered if it doesn't work as envisioned. Loree is an active gardener who doesn't hesitate to make changes, even drastic ones, when warranted. In contrast, many of us are much too timid about intervening, letting the plants dictate where our garden is headed.

Loree doesn't have any formal training in landscape design, but she has creativity in spades as well as an instinctive sense of aesthetics many professionals wish they had. Her garden is small (the entire lot is under 5,000 sq.ft.) but there are so many vignettes—combinations of plants or containers—that are so spot on that you can't imagine them any other way. To me, that's the very definition of masterful design.


In this post, I'll show you the front garden as it looked three weeks ago when I was in Portland for a three-day visit. As for the back garden, I took so many photos that I may need to split them into two posts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A trip around the world in John Kuzma's Portland fusion garden

I first visited John Kuzma's garden in Portland, Oregon during the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling. At that time, it was still recovering from an unusually harsh winter that had set many plants back, but that didn't make it any less impressive. Last September, three years later, I had the opportunity to see how the garden had progressed. In a nutshell: splendidly! Like fine wine, fine gardens only get better with age.

In what is beginning to look like a tradition, I was back at the Kuzma garden a couple of weekends ago in the company of Loree Danger Garden Bohl, Kathy GardenBook Stoner, Sean Hogan and Preston Pew of Cistus Nursery, and UK plantsman extraordinaire Nick Macer of Pan Global Plants.
John and his wife Kathleen—the very definition of gracious hosts—had invited us over for drinks and nibbles. Nothing could dampen our spirits, not even the rain that started to fall in the early evening. 

For me, this trio of Yucca rostrata in the front is one of the hallmarks of this remarkable garden
Let's take a look around.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Portland plant purchases and other recent additions

As I mentioned in this post, I recently spent three fun days in Portland, Oregon. They were filled with all kinds of plant-related activities, including garden visits, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Plant Fest, and—do I need to say it?—nursery hopping and plant shopping.

Since I flew to Portland and back, I could only take a few plants home with me. Fortunately, fellow blogger Kathy of GardenBook, who lives in Napa, happened to be in Portland at the same time and offered to be my plant transportation service. Yesterday, I went to her house to pick up my haul. When I set everything out on our driveway, I realized that it was more than I had remembered buying:


Even so, there are few plants I now wish I had bought, especially at Cistus Nursery. Oh well, there's always next time...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Not-to-miss fall plant sales (and related events) in Northern California

Like spring, fall is prime time for plant sales. The last weekend in September seems to be particularly busy, making me wish I could be in more than one place at a time.

Below are the events I'm aware of. If you know of any other sales, please let me know and I will add them.

In the calendar listing, you can click on any of the events to see details.

That's what it's all about!


CALENDAR

Monday, September 17, 2018

Geeking out in Portland, OR

I just got back from a long weekend in Portland, OR. The nominal reason for my visit was the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Plant Fest, a half-day program featuring a special lecture (this year by Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken of Far Reaches Farm) and a plant sale.

Fortunately, friend and fellow Northern California blogger Kathy of GardenBook was in Portland on business. She'd taken her own car so she could buy plants, and she agreed to transport my haul back with her. This allowed to me to buy with abandon—something I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise since I flew there and back. Kathy lives only an hour from my house so picking up my plants will be easy.

Loree of Danger Garden and her husband Andrew once again gave me a home away from home; they're not only great hosts, but also the nicest people. It was wonderful being able to step outside and explore the Danger Garden as much as I wanted. I took a lot of pictures and will have a couple of long posts in the new few weeks. Here are a just a few teasers:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Troy McGregor's backyard redesign: why rocks make all the difference

When I visited landscape designer Troy McGregor in mid-April, he was redoing a major part of his backyard—the area that would have been the lawn in the good old days. I was there when a shipment of rocks arrived, and throughout the summer I was wondering what Troy had done with them.

Last Saturday I went back to Troy's to pick up some plants, and I finally saw the finished product: a masterful multi-level rockscape that is now home to the kinds of plants I love.


If I woke up one morning and saw this view from our front windows, I would have a happy smile on my face. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Weekend Wrapup (WeWu) for 9/9/18: from billy balls to rusty saw blades

The weekend is almost over. The only good thing about it: It's time for another Weekend Wrapup (WeWu).

The calendar is relentlessly moving towards fall, but the weather here in Davis seems to be blissfully ignorant. It's 95°F right now on Sunday afternoon at 4pm! I'm looking forward to change of scenery, and temperature, this coming weekend when I'll be in Portland, Oregon.

But for now, let's dive right in. Hot weather, hot plants.

Billy balls (Craspedia globosa) is my personal "it" plant for summer 2018. The first one, planted in the spring, did so well that I've added three more. All of them are in the succulent mounds in the front yard. I'm keeping them well watered since they're still getting established but the heat doesn't seem the faze them.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Two Walnut Creek neighbors embrace water-wise landscaping

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to Walnut Creek for the Ruth Bancroft Garden's 2018 Local Garden Tour. I had the opportunity to visit three out of four water-wise gardens. One was Brian's garden, which I showed you in this post. Today I'll take you to the two other.

These two gardens are located right next to each other. What's more, they were designed/overhauled by Laura Hogan of Arid Accents and, as a result, have a cohesive look you rarely see in two neighboring properties. The front yards' limited plant palette combining rocks with agaves, grasses and silver-leaved perennials is an effective foil for the streamlined architecture of the 1960s Eichler-style homes.

House #1 

The agaves in the front yard of garden #1 were moved from the backyard where they had outgrown their space. A great cost-effective way to create something new with what you already have!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Annie's Annuals Labor Day visit (and sale)

Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA is having a big Labor Day sale: 20% all plants, both in the nursery and online. If you can't make it to the nursery, you still have until midnight Pacific Time tonight (September 3) to place an order on their web site.

I made the 1-hour drive to Richmond on Saturday morning, armed with my wish list and camera. As an Annie's follower on Facebook and Instagram, I knew that their display beds were bursting with color. Unfortunately, the battery pack in my camera gave out early—I'd grabbed the one that doesn't hold much of a charge anymore—but I still got a few dozen good photos so you can get an idea of how picture-perfect the plantings are right now.

Always a sight for sore eyes

Friday, August 31, 2018

Around the world on 6,000 sq.ft.: Brian's miniature botanical garden

A few months ago, I showed you my friend Brian's completely transformed front yard in Concord, California, about an hour from where I live. Brian is a fellow plantaholic who has assembled an impressive collection of dryland plants from all over the world—his own miniature botanical garden, you might say. This is no coincidence, considering that Brian volunteers at the nearby Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) once or twice a week. The constant exposure to one of the best succulent gardens in the country—and the master plantsmen who continue Ruth's legacy, including curator Brian Kemble, assistant curator Walker Young and horticulturist Ryan Penn—has had a profound effect on Brian's own path as a gardener. As an extra benefit, he has been able to bring home discarded plants from the RBG that would otherwise have ended up on their compost pile. Add to that an outsized green thumb, and it's no surprise that Brian's garden is flourishing.

Driveway bed

Last weekend, Brian's garden was on the Ruth Bancroft Garden's 2018 Local Gardens Tour. This is how it was described in the program:
After a delivery of four tons of rock and 30 yards of Bancroft Bedding Blend (from Contra Costa Topsoil), the lawn-to-garden transformation of this residence was quite dramatic as you will see in the before-after photos.  The backyard features a very special collection of cacti and succulents in raised beds and containers.
To see before/after photos, check out my post from June 2018.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Weekend Wrapup (WeWu) for 8/26/18: a pineappled agave and a real pineapple

Another week has gone by in a hurry so time for another Weekend Wrapup (WeWu). Remember this is a completely random collection of vignettes—things that caught my eye or that I worked on during the week (and weekend).

Everytime to go to Woodland, I drive by a clump of Agave americana in front of one of the ranchettes along the rural road I take. I posted about it before, in February 2011. The clump is much smaller now but it's still there. Right now, this rather strange looking specimen is flowering:


Not only has this Agave americana been pineappled to within an inch of its life, they also chopped off the flower stalk as it was emerging. Not that it stopped it, but it's much shorter than it would otherwise be.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Empty pots make me anxious

If you're anything like me, you have lots of these:


Mind you, what you see above is just a small quantity of the empty nursery cans in the backyard. I do reuse the square pots and the green pots regularly but the 1-gallon pots really can go. I have every intention of taking them to a local nursery that accepts used nursery containers, but I haven't quite yet made it to the "get of your ass and do it" stage.

But what I want to talk about in this post are the kinds of pots you see in the next set photos: the "good" pots. They may be dusty and a bit dirty but they're perfectly serviceable and look decent when cleaned up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Octopus agave bulbils: is there such a thing as "too many?"

Five years ago friends of ours adopted an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) I'd removed from the driveway bed. They planted it in the meadow garden in their front yard where it was much happier than it had been at our house.

This spring it started to send up a flower stalk, signaling the beginning of the end. Here's a sequence of photos from our friend Paul showing the progress of the inflorescence:

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Weekend Wrapup (WeWu) for 8/18/18: prickly superstars and more

So many of the photos I take are snapshots of things that catch my eye, projects I'm working on, plants I just bought, etc. Often there isn't enough of a story for an entire post so they never get seen. That's why I'm starting a new feature: the Weekend Wrapup (WeWu). Every Saturday or Sunday I'll throw together a post of these snaps in hopes you'll find them interesting.

Here are the succulent mounds in the front yard as seen from the front porch. I really enjoy this view, and I constantly look for ways to cram more plants in. Fortunately, many of these plants are sloooow growers so they should continue to coexist peacefully for years to come.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mangave musical chairs

If there's one constant in my garden, it's that nothing stays the same forever—or even for very long.

There's the natural circle of life: Plants, even the toughest and most reliable ones, die at some point and need to be replaced.

And then there's the Gerhard circle of life that revolves almost entirely around my ever-changing plant crushes and preferences. Variety is the spice of life, isn't that way they say?

Here's my latest tweak:


The Agave ocahui in the photo above never quite lived up to my expectations. It looked a bit wonky and in general didn't impress. Time for it to go.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mealybugs win, agave loses

Two years ago, I posted this photo of my Agave parryi var. truncata:


It showed the beginnings of what would turn into a particularly insidious infestation of mealybugs, the bane of my existence as a gardener. It also marked the start of a multi-year war against these little đź’©đź’©đź’©.

Fast forward to August 2018:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Solana Succulents: my favorite kind of nursery

There's no doubt about it: Large nurseries that grow their own material, like Rancho Soledad Nursery in northern San Diego County, are exciting to visit. But what makes my plant-loving heart beat even faster are small independent nurseries—often mom-and-pop (or mom or pop) businesses operating out their own backyard or a tiny space in a not-so-flashy part of town and carrying an eclectic inventory of plants that combines the fairly common with the fairly rare. Solana Succulents in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach is one of these special nurseries, with one exception: Its location right on Highway 101 just a few blocks from the beach, is definitely not out of the way.

In fact, the sign is easy to spot:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Important information for Succulents and More email subscribers

If you've subscribed to receive email notifications when new posts are added to Succulents and More but haven't been receiving them lately, I apologize. Because of the General Data Protection Regulation that recently went into effect in the European Union, all subscribers need to re-confirm their subscription before email notifications can be resumed.

Fortunately, this is very easy to do:

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sip and shop at the Succulent Café

At the end of March, I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in San Diego County to attend the 2018 Super Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals. Since I'm never one to take it slow when I'm on a trip, I also squeezed in a visit to a drive-through nursery and to Rancho Soledad Nursery, a world-class destination of its own.

On my way back to the airport I stopped by the Succulent Café in the seaside community of Carlsbad. For years I'd been hearing what a special place the original Succulent Café in Oceanside was. Unfortunately, it's now closed. But the good news is that the new Succulent Café in Carlsbad Village, just a few block from the beach, is much larger than the old space had been.

As its name suggests, the Succulent CafĂ© serves a full range of hot and cold coffee and tea drinks, baked goods, as well as breakfast dishes, sandwiches and salads. All of this is par for the course for a cafĂ©. What makes this spot so unique, though, is that you sip your lavender mocha or nosh on your orange cranberry scone surrounded by succulent displays, dish gardens, ceramics, cards, and gift items made by local artists—and of course thousands of succulents for sale. Even if you aren't the most creative type, like myself, you'll find plenty of inspiration wherever you look, and you can then pick out the right plants, container and accessories to bring your idea to life.

The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" seems to have been coined specifically for a place like the Succulent Café. So I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

More succulent Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery (part 2)

This is part 2 of my trip report about Rancho Soledad Nursery in San Diego County. If you missed part 1, click here.

Rancho Soledad may be open to the public, but it's very much a working nursery. There were signs of it everywhere even though we didn't see many employees. Plants, usually larger specimens, were in the process of being hauled from one point to another, like Aloidendron ramosissimum in this photo:

Aloidendron ramosissimum

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Succulent Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery (part 1)

When I was in San Diego in March, I finally got the chance to visit a place I had always pictured as the nursery equivalent of Shangri-La: Rancho Soledad Nursery. Founded by legendary plantsman Jerry Hunter in 1954, Rancho Soledad has been a pioneering force in the California nursery industry for decades. Rancho Soledad was one of the first nurseries in the world to establish its own in-house tissue culture lab to produce landscape-worthy plants on a large scale. Popular agave hybrids like 'Blue Glow' and 'Blue Flame' are just two of the many introductions to come out of Rancho Soledad.

Much of Rancho Soledad's groundbreaking work in the last 20 years was done by Kelly Griffin, who is now succulent plant development manager at Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents in the U.S. Even though Griffin is no longer with Rancho Soledad, their hybridizing program is continuing strong, thanks in no small measure to curator Jeremy Spath. With his far-ranging knowledge and practical experience, Spath is considered a leading expert on agaves. Based on the glimpses I got on my visit, I have no doubt that Rancho Soledad will continue to bring us exciting new agaves in the years to come.

Rancho Soledad Nursery is located in northern San Diego County outside the small town of Rancho Santa Fe, about 10 miles inland from the coast. The sprawling 25-acre nursery is at the end of Aliso Canyon Road in a rural area increasingly dominated by multi-million-dollar houses on large lots. Hey, for a cool $18 million you can buy this 12,400 sq.ft. house with 7 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms five miles away; the estimated mortgage is only $73,000 a month! I bet this part of San Diego County looked very different when Jerry Hunter bought the property in 1960.

I visited Rancho Soledad on a Saturday morning in late March accompanied by fellow succulent fanatics Deana and Sarah from Santa Barbara. I don't think the nursery gets a lot of casual walk-in traffic, considering where it's located; most customers seem to be landscaping professionals who buy plants for their own clients. We parked at the public sales area near the main entrance (here's a map for orientation). In the panorama below, you see the landscape design and consulting office straight ahead:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bodacious bromeliads at Sacramento Bromeliad Society show

Yesterday I went to the 2018 Show and Sale of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society. As I had hoped, it was a great opportunity to see plants I only know from books and the web. I'm a rank novice when it comes to bromeliads (especially cultivation) but I'm fascinated by the wide range of forms and colors. And I came home with a box full of treasures—it's hard to resist a good sale with prices that can't be beat.

Here are some of the plants that caught my eye in the show. They're in no particular order, just like the show itself didn't seem to be in any particular order. It's easy to see why many succulent fanatics are into bromeliads as well.

Cryptanthus 'Thriller'

Friday, July 27, 2018

Random things in the garden that make me happy

All too often I'm focused on the areas that still need to be improved or redone. This mindset isn't bad in and of itself, but it makes me lose sight of the many things that are done—and, more importantly, that I'm happy with. Here are some of them.

It can be as simple as a concrete face on the backyard fence:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Agaves, aloes, and abutilons

It seems like everything I have doing in the garden lately has been haphazard: a little bit here, a little bit there. I know that ultimately things will come together, but right now it feels like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are scattered all over.

The same holds true for recent plant purchases. Nothing focused, just whatever catches my eye, happens to come to my attention, or simply lands in my lap.

This post is about three genera beginning with the letter a that been front and center in the last month. Two are not surprising—agaves and aloes—but the third one is: abutilons, or flowering maples. Read on to find out more.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Rating ornamental plants as part of UC Davis irrigation trial

Last week I did something really interesting: I helped rate the appearance of landscape plants that are currently part of an irrigation trial at the University of California Davis. The objective is to determine how ornamental plants fare when they receive different amounts of water and are irrigated increasingly less frequently. The ultimate goal is to find the sweet spot where a plant still looks good with as little irrigation as possible. This is of enormous importance for gardeners in the West and Southwest—anyplace where water is scarce and precious.

On the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trial website, the project is described like this:
UC Davis horticulturists are evaluating landscape plants with the potential to be good performers in low-water use gardens. [...] the plants are exciting new cultivars provided by growers and breeders who want to evaluate their new plant varieties for low-water use in hot California gardens. The results of these trials are providing growers and retailers the information they need to successfully distribute and market these plants to the public.
This is how the project works:
After being grown for a full year on a regular watering regime [roughly weekly during the summer with 8.3 gallons applied during each event] to establish deep, healthy roots, plants are irrigated through the second growing season with one of three different irrigation frequencies that correspond to the Water Use Classification of Landscape Species (WUCOLS IV) categories of Low, Moderate, and High.  (These categories are based on percentages of reference evapotranspiration with local weather station data used to estimate these percentages.)
Height and width are measured monthly to calculate a growth index for each species at each irrigation level. Overall appearance, flowering time and duration, and pest or disease problems are rated monthly to provide a comprehensive assessment of performance, allowing us to make irrigation recommendations for these plants. This data allows growers to provide good information in marketing their product to the consumer.
In addition to the monthly appearance evaluations mentioned above, larger-scale evaluations are performed in the spring, summer and fall where local horticulturists, landscaping and nursery professionals, master gardeners, and garden communicators are invited to walk the growing grounds and rate the plants growing under the different irrigation schemes. This was the first time I participated in one of these Open House Ratings Events, and I can't wait to do it again in the fall.

The plants are growing in random order in rows like these:


Monday, July 16, 2018

Institute for Aloe Studies does mail order

Have you heard of the Institute for Aloe Studies? High five if you answered yes; I bet you hang out a lot in aloe-related web forums! But don't feel bad if you haven't. The Institute for Aloes Studies isn't a household name yet, although it deserves to be.

The Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS) is the brainchild of John B Miller, an elementary school teacher from Oakland, California who became hooked on aloes when he saw an Aloe sabaea on his first visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in nearby Walnut Creek 20+ years ago. In the years to follow, John and his brother Jeff, equally enamored with aloes, worked as volunteers at the RBG and built up an impressive aloe collection of their own.

My first order from the Institute for Aloe Studies

Friday, July 13, 2018

Getty Center gardens, finally!

It took me 20 years to visit the Getty Center in Los Angeles for the first time, but through a fortunate combination of circumstances I've now been there twice in the last six months. Not that I'm complaining; if I lived closer, I'd be a regular!

The Getty Center is one of the most visited art museums in the U.S. I'm convinced people come as much for the location as they do for the priceless European art on display. The Getty Center sits all by itself on top of a hill next to the 405 freeway. Visitors park their cars in a 6-story underground parking structure at the base of the hill and take the tram to the museum complex—a ride of less than five minutes. Parking costs $15 ($10 after 3pm), but there is no charge to use the tram or see the museum exhibits.

Volumes have been written and said about the Getty Center, oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, his vast art collection, and of course about the trials and tribulations of his family, including the 1973 kidnapping of his grandson (the topic of the 2017 Ridley Scott movie All the Money in the World). And like virtually everything associated with the Gettys, the Getty Center, one of the two museum complexes run by the Getty Trust, is the stuff of superlatives. Built over the course of eight years at a cost of $733 million (including $115 million for the 750 acres of land), the property was valued at almost $4 billion in 2013 (not including the art).

In addition to its location, architecture, and art, the Getty Center has something else: world-famous gardens. The Central Garden with its three towering steel arbors draped with hot-pink bougainvillea, and the Cactus Garden on top of the South Promontory, are destinations in their own right, as evidenced by steady streams of visitors.

Cactus Garden with an unobstructed view of downtown Los Angeles

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Succulent perfection at the Newport Beach Civic Center Desert Garden

The first time I read about the Newport Beach Civic Center was in this October 2014 post on Piece of Eden. The $140 million complex took three years to complete and opened in April 2013. It houses Newport Beach City Hall and the Central Library and is surrounded by 16 acres of parks and gardens, including the Coastal Sage Scrub Garden, the Torrey Pine Grove and—of particular interest to me—the Desert Garden.

On our recent trip to Southern California to tour university campuses with daughter #2, I had the opportunity to visit the Newport Beach Civic Center on an early morning outing. I found a parking space right at the entrance to the parking lot and only encountered a couple of other people as I was walking around.

A mass planting of Agave attenuata against the north wall of City Hall sets the stage:

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Garden rooms and an ocean view in Mendocino

Every summer I look forward to the Garden Conservancy's Open Days. This year I finally made it to an Open Days event in Mendocino on the North Coast. I met up with fellow bloggers Kathy of GardenBook and Denise of A Growing Obsession so I not only saw two fantastic gardens, I did it in the company of like-minded friends. In addition, I finally got to visit fabled Digging Dog Nursery, located deep in the woods just south of Mendocino—more on that in separate post.

The first garden we toured was a 3-acre spread overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Since it's right next to Russian Gulch State Park, it seems even larger. As you will see in the photos below, it is a spectacular blend of colors, shapes and textures. In fact, there are several distinct gardens coexisting side by side, each one self-contained and able to stand on its own, yet connecting seamlessly to the others.

The first area you see as you approach the house is an expansive heather garden planted with a variety of Erica. The softly undulating forms of the heathers look wind-worn, as if shaped by the harsh winds off the Pacific Ocean. There was great contrast even now; I can only imagine how beautiful the heather garden must be in the fall and winter.

I believe the house you see is on the property, but it's not the main residence. Maybe it's a guest house?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

San Diego just won't stop succing

It's day 3 of our visit to San Diego. The succy trend that started on day 1 and continued on day 2 is showing no signs of letting up. Slowly but surely, it's wearing me down. It won't be long before I throw up my hands in defeat and become a convert. Maybe all this succyness isn't so bad after all!

The campus of San Diego State University is only a tenth of the size of UC San Diego, which we visited yesterday, but it has a much higher succulent ratio. The first sighting we made was in front of this newly refurbished residence hall:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

San Diego still succs

Day 2 in San Diego, and the succy sights simply won't end. Wherever we go, there are spiky plants that want to be boss.

It starts right at our hotel:

Friday, June 29, 2018

San Diego succs

I'm in San Diego for a quick family trip to tour colleges with daughter #2. Once again I'm reminded of how unlikeable this city is. The weather is awful: oppressive gray skies, not a trace of sunshine, just an annoying drizzle that never seems to end. The scenery is dull and drab; in fact, there is nothing to see, nothing to do.

You want proof?

Here's incontrovertible proof that San Diego succs!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

England meets Texas: Jenny Stocker's walled garden (#gbfling2018)

Many of you know Jenny Stocker through her blog Rock Rose and are familiar with her garden in suburban Austin. But seeing photos of a garden is one thing, even if it's hundreds, if not thousands, of photos over a number of years. Visiting it in person is something else entirely. It's a somewhat surreal experience—like a lucid dream where you find yourself in a place that's both new and familiar at the same time. When I finally had the opportunity to tour Jenny's garden during the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, I took hundreds of photos myself. I hope that I managed to capture a few angles you haven't seen before.

If you're not familiar with the Stockers, here's a brief intro. Jenny and her husband David are transplants from England who came to the US in 1967. After gardening elsewhere in Austin, they built their dream home in 2000 and started their current garden right after the house was finished. In this post you'll see their house and garden from air as well as some photos of the early days.

Jenny describes her garden like this:
Our idea was to have space in which I could garden deer-free. So the house was built with surrounding walls. We also like to eat outdoors and have our morning coffee or afternoon tea outside, so creating areas for that became our next priority. In winter we needed a sheltered, sunny spot, and in summer a shaded spot. So we have 6 areas we use depending on the time of the year and time of day. 
You'll see all of that in the course of this post. But let's start at the street where the bus dropped us off. The first thing you notice are trees. Lots of them. It's a miniature forest!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Brian's East Bay front yard transformed into a colorful desert garden

I've seen quite a few front yard conversions in recent years, driven by the historic drought as much as turf replacement rebates from local water districts and the State of California. But few conversions have been as complete and as successful as what my friend Brian has achieved at this home in Concord.

Brian has gone from the quintessential suburban front yard—a rarely used expanse of front lawn and some shrubbery along the sidewalk and driveway—to a garden bursting with beauty and life: All the pollinators for whom the previous incarnation was a wasteland now have a smorgasbord that is as never-ending as the California sun. In addition, Brian's water consumption has dropped to a fraction of what it had been before. I don't think you could do much better than that.

Here's a before and after:


Now let's take a closer look.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hot Color, Dry Garden

Dry garden: Many of us have that. Hot color: That's something everybody needs.

Garden writer, landscape designer and TV host Nan Sterman clearly thought so, too. Her new book Hot Color, Dry Garden (Timber Press 2018) puts an end, once and for all, to the misconception that water-wise gardens are a dull wasteland.


In fact, she busts three popular myths right out of the gate: that "low-water landscapes are brown, lifeless, and colorless," that "low-water gardens are scrubby and scrappy rather than lush and plant-filled," and that "low-water gardens are rocks and desert."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sizzle and pop: Southern California road trip curiosities

A busy spring has morphed into a busy summer. We just got back a from a quick 4-day road trip to Southern California to tour universities daughter #2 is interested in. Getting from Northern California to Southern California involves a goodly amount of driving on freeways which at this time of year range from merely busy to downright congested. In addition, traveling the length of the Central Valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield gets boring in no time. But every now and then you see random snippets of unassuming beauty that take your breath away:

Interstate 5, somewhere between nowhere and nowherer

Friday, June 8, 2018

Bittersweet symphony: flowering agaves

My love for agaves is no secret. They're eye candy, they have a don't-mess-with-me attitude, and no matter where you put them—in the ground or in a pot—they make a statement that cannot be denied.

Many agave species live for a long time, but when this happens, the end is near:

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis, April 7, 2018

Unlike perennials, which flower over and over again, virtually all agave species flower only once. They literally put all they've got into producing that one flower stalk. Even in a small agave like the Agave utahensis var. nevadensis above, the inflorescence is very tall in relation to the body of the agave.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Beauty can be a heavy burden—just ask this cactus

It's that time of year when the echinopsis in the front yard go into flower. We only have a few, but they're still quite a sight.

In the past, the flowers opened successively, prolonging the show (each flower lasts only a day, two at the most). This year, though, this Johnson's hybrid has six (!) flowers open at the same time:


It's a stunning spectacle!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

The first garden we visited on the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, TX was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Established in 1982 as the National Wildflower Research Center under the auspices of actress Helen Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson it moved to its current 42-acre site in 1995 and was renamed Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997. The Center acquired an additional 237 acres in 2002, enabling it to pursue "larger scale research on the ecology of the Central Texas region and how best to restore healthy landscapes in the region." In 2006, the non-profit organization became part of the University of Texas at Austin.

Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, was a committed environmentalist, working to preserve public lands for future generation and to "beautify" America. She was the driving force behind 200 environmental protection laws that were passed during her husband's administration. At the entrance to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which was opened on her 70th birthday in 1982, there's a quote by Lady Bird that perfectly summarizes her objectives:
My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land—to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas, and thus help pass on to generation in waiting the quiet jobs and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Desert Gardens of Steve Martino: a must-read for xeric gardeners

There was a time when I didn't know Steve Martino's name, but his signature aesthetic—vibrantly colored walls, sculptural desert plants, dramatic interplay of light and shadow—is something I've been familiar for as long as I can remember.

Previously, the only way you could see Steve Martino's work was in magazine articles. His website has great photos, but there are never enough for my taste. And with the majority of his projects being private residences, primarily in the Southwest, it's virtually impossible to visit them in person.

That's why I was so excited when a couple of years ago Steve Martino mentioned on his Facebook page that a book was in the works. That book is now here: Desert Gardens of Steve Martino, written by Caren Yglesias and photographed by Steve Gunther, published in April 2018 by Monacelli Press.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Mirador Garden: steel and succulents in Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

I usually approach gardens that are completely new to me the same way I do thrillers or suspense movies: I try not to find out too much in advance so I can go into the experience without any preconceived ideas. I find that to be more enjoyable than seeing everything through somebody else's lens.

At the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas we were given brief descriptions of each garden. I skimmed through them the night before to get a general sense but didn't read them carefully until afterwards. I might have missed a few things mentioned in the blurbs but I was able to let each garden "speak" to me on its own terms.

However, in my posts about the gardens we visited in Austin, I'll give you as much information beforehand as I can. That should help you better understand what you see in the photos.

The Mirador Garden was designed by Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. We visited Curt's own garden after the Fling; I'll have a separate post in a few weeks.

In the homeowner's words, Mirador Garden "was designed around low-water plants, and it was inspired by my travels. The fig arbor was influenced by one I saw in New Zealand. The steel-panel retaining walls out front were inspired by the botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia." (She's referring to the Jamie Durie-designed succulent garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens.)

The Corten retaining walls was the first thing I saw as I got off the bus, and I knew this garden would be special:



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Revisiting Marta's garden: succulents, edible fruits and more

One of my favorite gardens here in Davis is less than 10 minutes from my house. It belongs to my friend Marta Matvienko, a plant geneticist whose personal interests include rare and unusual fruits (at least rare and unusual for our area). Marta documents her growing experiences and fruit tasting impressions here.

But fruit trees aren't the only thing Marta and her husband Alex grow. In fact, the first thing you see approaching their house are the flower spikes of two blooming octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana). They are yellow beacons visible from a block away. I have no doubt they're extremely popular with bees and possibly hummingbirds.

Agave vilmoriniana flower stalks

Monday, May 21, 2018

Redesigned Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery needs tweaking

I've probably bought more plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery than anywhere else. In the old days, I couldn't wait for the spring and fall plant sales when tables full of exciting succulents and other plants were set up all over the garden.

In February 2015, the nursery expanded significantly, ushering in what I consider the golden age. Under the leadership of nursery manager Troy McGregor, the nursery began to offer a large variety of South African and Australian shrubs (including many proteaceas), more succulents than ever, and even water-wise trees. A consummate plantsman originally from Australia, Troy brought in plants that simply weren't available anywhere else in Northern California, always focusing on climate appropriateness and low-water use.

But nothing lasts forever. Troy left to open his own landscape design company, Gondwana Flora. The RBG broke ground to build a multi-million dollar Visitor and Education Center, and a new executive director, Carol Laughlin, took office.

While the site preparations for the new Visitor Center were under way, the nursery did business on the north side of the garden in the green metal-frame building called Ruth's Folly. Now, with the Visitor Center foundation complete, the nursery has moved back to its old spot on the south side of the garden near the main entrance. The official opening of the nursery was last Saturday, May 19. I attended the preview party on Friday, May 18 to get a sneak peek at the new space.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Photographic proof: the garden does just fine on its own

The past month has been very busy. I spent 4½ days in Austin, TX for the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, but that hasn't been the only thing that has kept me from doing much in the garden. Work has been consuming a big chunk of my time, leaving only parts of the weekends for puttering around outside. As a result, I haven't been able to get nearly as much done as I had hoped earlier in the year. Unfortunately, that seems to have become the new normal for me—I'm sure many of you can relate.

One thing I have been doing even at the busiest times: taking photos to chronicle the goings-on in the garden. Flowers come and go—sometimes all too quickly—so a postpone-until-tomorrow approach usually means you miss out.

This post contains 70+ photos taken over the past month. Some of the flowers are nothing but a memory now, but at least I've captured them at their peak.

What these photos prove is this: No matter how much we like to think we're indispensable, our gardens do just fine without us.

Danebrog poppy (Papaver hybridum 'Danebrog') from Annie's Annuals

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Austin, TX gardens from M to Z

In part 1 of this alphabetical round-up of garden highlights from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling I went from Agaves to Lush. This installment covers the rest: Mexico to Zilker Botanical Gardens.


Mexico

Texas was part of Mexico until the Texas Revolution of 1836. The relationship between Texas and Mexico has always been turbulent, and in a February 2018 CBS 11/Dixie Strategies poll 57% of Texans supported Trump's border wall. But in spite of the current political animosity towards Mexico, Texas's neighbor to the south continues to be a major cultural influence: 31% of the total population of Texas is of Mexican descent and 30% of households speak Spanish at home (source). Mexican food—and Tex-Mex, a fusion between Mexican and American cuisine—are insanely popular, and even hard-core conservatives would change their tune if Trump slapped a tariff on the import of tequila.

Food writer Lucinda Hutson's garden, our first stop on Sunday, distills the essence of Mexico into a small urban space in central Austin. Walking through the backyard gate into her JardĂ­n Encantador is like stepping into a courtyard garden in the heart of Mexico. It's Lucinda's love song to Mexico, and I can still hear it loud and clear.