Sunday, December 9, 2018

Meanwhile, at home, in our own garden...

After being gone for almost two weeks (first for Thanksgiving, then on my trip to Southern California), it seemed like I hadn't spent any time in the garden in quite a while.

We don't usually get much fall color, but the Chinese pistache in the backyard is putting on a good show this year:


I still wish we had actually gotten the male tree we'd ordered (female Chinese pistache are much messier and don't have as much color in the fall), but it's 20 years too late to complain.

2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California

Here are all the posts from my 2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California (November 26 to December 1, 2018):

Detailed posts to follow about the Huntington Desert Garden, my visits with Andy Siekkinen (Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden) und Jeff Moore (Solana Succulents), my friend Deana's garden in Carpinteria/Santa Barbara, and much more.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 6

Day 6, the last day of my Southern California road trip, arrived all too quickly. I had spent the night in the Central California university town of San Luis Obispo, home of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). I've always had a soft spot for SLO and can actually see myself living there some day. Gardening in such a gentle climate has got to be dreamy!

My first stop was the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, a non-profit endeavor I'd discovered in April 2016. In my post about that visit, I mentioned their ambitious expansion plans for the future. Unfortunately, raising the funds for such a big project is a difficult and slow process, and I didn't see any visible progress on this visit.

Still, the 2½-acre preview garden is a nice medley of plants from the various Mediterranean climate regions around the world. Here are some examples:

Aloe ferox against California buckeye (Aesculus californica)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 5

Day 5 began with breakfast at Esau's Café in Carpinteria ("World Famous since 1939"), just a couple of blocks from the beach. Joining me were my friend Deana and her husband Robert; Deana has lived in the Santa Barbara area for 30+ years and knows everything there is to know.

Imagine gardening in a virtually frost-free climate where 85°F is considered a hot day! The lack of water, however, is a worry that's never far from residents' minds. That's one reason why Deana is such a fan of succulents. Most of them thrive in the mild coastal climate. The only exception are cacti native to extremely hot desert environments; Santa Barbara simply doesn't get caliente enough for them.

After breakfast, I had the opportunity to check out the progress in Deana's garden. As you can see, the front yard is dominated by a massive Agave americana, one of the nicest forms I've seen:


Like all Agave americana, it does offset, but Deana is diligent about removing the pups. She wants a solitary specimen, not an impenetrable tangle.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 4

Day 4 of my ATSCRT (After-Thanksgiving Southern California Road Trip) started with a visit to Australian Native Plants in Casitas Springs, less than 10 miles northeast of Ventura where I had spent the night. The nursery is owned and operated by Jo O'Connell and her husband Byron Cox. Jo is a tour de force in the plant world. Through patience, perseverance and lots of hard work, she and Byron have built a one-of-a-kind niche business that now offers the largest selection of Australian plants in the U.S.


I first met Jo in 2016 at a presentation she gave at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and had been wanting to visit her nursery ever since. 

Since Australian Native Plants is not a regular retail nursery with set hours, I'd contacted Jo ahead of time to make sure she was around on Thursday. Jo and Byron own three adjacent lots so there's plenty of space for the greenhouses and growing areas. The back entrance to the nursery is right across from a church so it was easy to find.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 3

Day 3 of my after-Thanksgiving Southern California road trip began with a visit to Rancho Vista Nursery, a large wholesale grower in Vista in northern San Diego County. They have been in operation for 40 years and grow over 500 species of succulents and cacti on 10 acres (6 acres of greenhouses and 4 acres of outdoor growing space). 

Ryan Penn, the former horticulturist at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, recently started working at Rancho Vista as their new nursery manager. He showed me around and told me a little about the business. Because of its mild climate and year-round growing season, northern San Diego County has more wholesale succulent growers than any other area in the country. For example, many cacti sold in Arizona nurseries actually come from here. In addition, I was surprised to find out that common succulents like aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) and the humble jade plant (Crassula ovata) are among the biggest sellers.

Countless in-ground specimens of silver torch cactus (Cleistocacactus strausii) waiting to be dug up 

Southern California road trip, day 2

My good intentions of posting a daily update from my Southern California road trip didn't quite translate into reality. Sometimes a full day of taking in new sights, talking to fellow plant nerds, as well as driving—the one constant—can be more tiring than I initially realize.

So, a day late, here are some photos and observations from Tuesday, day 2.

Day 2 started with a visit to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, northeast of Burbank. Los Angeles nurseryman Theodore Payne (1872-1963) is considered to be the father of the native plant movement in California. The Foundation owns 22 acres of canyon land, featuring walking trails (the wildflower trail is said to be spectacular in the spring), a couple of demonstration gardens, and arguable one of the best California native plant nurseries in the state. At the end of a long, dry summer the native vegetation wasn't at its prettiest (that's just how it is), but the nursery lived up to my expectations. I'd made a shopping list ahead of time and found everything I was looking for, mostly garden-tolerant manzanitas and a couple of white-flowering, cold-hardy ceanothus for my mother-in-law's garden.

Andy Siekkinen with some of his plants in the greenhouse at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden/Claremont Graduate University

Stop #2 was Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont (Theodore Payne helped establish it in 1926 in a different location and he was still active when it moved to its present site in 1951). Attached to the campus of Claremont Graduate University, it houses CGU's botany department.

I met up with Andy Siekkinen, one of the world's leading experts on hechtias and a walking and talking reference library on terrestrial bromeliads. Andy is doing groundbreaking research on hechtias that I'm sure will bring new order into a poorly studied and taxonomically confused genus. He's also a passionate grower of hechtias and other terrestrial bromeliads, and he generously took time out of his busy day to show me his plants in the greenhouses. I was amazed by the sheer quantity, but he said it's only a small part of his collection; most of it is at his house in San Diego.

Andy has the rare gift of being able to explain complex scientific matters in terms that non-scientists like me can understand, and he does so with an enthusiasm that is electric and infectious. In addition, he's just a nice guy who doesn't make you feel like an idiot if you miss something. My visit with him was the highlight of my trip so far.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Southern California, here I am again...

I've been overworked and overstressed for far too long, so I'm taking a much needed break. There's nothing better for me to relax than go on a 1000+ mile road trip in 6 days. Crazy, I know.

I left on Monday morning with a full tank of gas and the navigation system set for Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino/Pasadena.


Day 2 will be Theodore Payne Foundation, Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, and on to Oceanside in San Diego County. I'll spend day 3 visiting succulent friends in northern San Diego County, and then on to Ventura. Day 4 will be Taft Gardens in Ojai and a visit to Jo O'Connell's Australian Native Plants Nursery in nearby Casita Springs. Day 4 I'll spent in Santa Barbara visiting my friend Deana, and on day 5 I'll swing by Las Pilitas Nursery near San Luis Obispo. Throw in a predicted 1 to 1.5 inches of rain in a couple of days, and it should be quite an adventure!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A love letter to color, life, and tequila: the Austin, TX garden of Lucinda Hutson

Love at first sight is real, folks. One look at Lucinda Hutson's little purple house was all it took, and I was a goner. 

It happened in early May at the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas. Thanks to Lucinda, the color purple will forever be linked in my mind with her Casita Morada, her jewel box of a house built in the 1930s.


Lucinda Hutson is not just a color picker extraordinaire, she's a passionate gardener, cookbook and lifestyle writer, and expert on spirits made from the humble agave: pulque, mescal, and above all tequila.

Lucinda was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She learned Spanish at an early age and, as a teen, frequently hung out in Juárez, El Paso's sibling on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jacarandas, succulents and a selfie: Sepulveda Garden Center

The smoke from the hellish Case Fire in Paradise, about 90 miles north of here, has been making our air hard to breathe all week. But that's a minor annoyance compared to what those in the middle of it are going through. The flames got to within a few hundred yards of my brother-in-law's property outside of Chico, but fortunately they were spared. So many haven't been. The loss of life in Paradise has stunned Northern California and, with many hundreds still left unaccounted for, will only go up. The destruction of virtually an entire town is simply unfathomable. My thoughts continue to be with the thousands of people affected by this catastrophic wildfire.


To counteract all the ugliness, I want to show you some beauty I found in Southern California in early June. We spent the first night of our trip in in Sherman Oaks, and as I was futzing around on Facebook, I noticed that the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society was going to have its 2018 Drought Tolerant Plant Festival the following day at a place called Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. I'm not very familiar with the San Fernando Valley, and I had no idea where Encino was relative to our location. Imagine my surprise when Google Maps told me that the Sepulvedea Garden Center was less than two miles from our motel! What's better than the gift of serendipity?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Creating a demonstration garden for the Sacramento C&SS

The Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society (SCSS) meets every 4th Monday of the month at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center (SGA&C) on McKinley Boulevard. The two are almost the same age: The SCSS was founded in 1960, and the SGA&C was built in 1958 by the City of Sacramento. If you want to see what it looks like, check out this photo gallery.

According to its website, the SGA&C is "an outstanding example of mid-twentieth century architecture:"
Most notable of its exterior features is the dramatic roof line that combines an A-line form with that of a "butterfly" style appendage that extends over the patio. This in dramatic contrast to its surrounding neighbors which are noted for the popular styles of architecture from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The Center, as was common in the late 1950s, utilizes stone and wood with flair and exuberance. One of its more notable features on the interior is the massive two-sided fireplace made of flagstone and terrazzo, with a glass mosaic on one side and a huge copper vent on the other. The broad hearth serves as seating, making this feature the heart of the building. 
The "broad hearth," incidentally, is usually the place where I sit during presentations.

As one of the plant clubs meeting at the SGA&C, the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society was recently asked to participate in a re-beautification project: Each club is given an area outside the Center to create a demonstration garden that reflects the club's interests. Here is our area:


Last Saturday, SCSS volunteers met to get started on our demonstration garden. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Succulents and More expanding north—and bamboo-in-law update

A trunk full of plants always makes my heart beat faster. Especially if it's our car filled with plants!


These plants, however, weren't for our own garden. Instead, they went on a 3½ hour car ride into the mountains, bound for what I jokingly call our northern garden expansion, a.k.a. my mother-in-law's 2+ acre property in Mount Shasta.

Of the 2+ acres, no more than ½ acre is landscaped. The rest are native trees, mostly Western redcedar (Thuja plicata). In other words, there's lots of room to broaden the plant palette!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Barrie Coates' tranquil Green Valley garden, complete with bonsai

The third garden I visited a few Sundays ago with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) is located in Green Valley outside of Fairfield, about 35 minutes west of here. Climatically speaking, Green Valley is in between San Francisco Bay with its mild winters and summers and the Sacramento Valley with its somewhat colder winters and blazing-hot summers. It's not quite Goldilocks country, but almost (and certainly closer than we are)

The garden we toured belongs to Carol and Barrie Coate. Now retired, Barrie has been a leading figure in California horticultural circles for decades: as a consulting arborist, director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (now part of UC Davis), arboricultural consultant to the Getty Center, and author of numerous articles and books.

Barrie and his wife Carol moved to Green Valley in 2014. They inherited a number of mature trees and shrubs but have added everything else you see in the photos below. The soil in their area can only be described as a gardener's dream: 20 ft. deep class-1 soil with consistent water at 6 inches. Barrie said he's now able to grow finnicky plants that he was never able to grow before.

50-year old mayten tree (Maytenus boaria)

Friday, November 2, 2018

East Bay Wilds native plant nursery: nothing ordinary about it

I'd heard whispers of East Bay Wilds for a while:
► “I think it's in Berkeley. Maybe Oakland. Somewhere over there.”
►“Never been there myself, but I've heard it's great.”
► “It's hardly ever open, but it has stuff you can't find anywhere else.”
► “You have to go. They have all kinds of stuff, not just plants.”

I love nothing more than a challenge so to the Interwebs I went. It turns out that East Bay Wilds is a small nursery in Oakland that specializes in California natives. It's the brainchild of Pete Veilleux, a plantsman and garden designer who maximizes the use of natives in his residential and commercial work. You can read more about the history of East Bay Wilds on their website.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

More beauties from Troy McGregor's garden

I already showed you the first East Bay garden I visited with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) a few weekends ago: Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden. The second was Troy McGregor's, also in Martinez.

As you maybe remember, Troy used to be the nursery manager of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. In that position, he put the nursery on the map as one the leading plant destinations in Northern California for dry-climate plants, especially succulents and Australian and South African natives. Troy now runs his own business, Gondwana Flora, specializing in regionally appropriate landscaping.

I wrote about Troy's personal garden in April and again in September. In this post I'm trying to focus on areas I didn't fully cover before. But this mound in the backyard is so wonderful, it's worth another photo:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ellen Frank's “tropical dry climate fusion” garden

Last Sunday I joined the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) on a tour of three gardens in the East Bay. One of them was the garden of Ellen Frank, a former president of CalHort. In her own words:
I’ve been in my house almost eleven years and working piecemeal to its present state. It originally had Pfizer junipers all in the front with a narrow race track path around the house.  Inside the courtyard (front yard/backyard) was a lawn next to the racetrack path with a straight wood retaining wall keeping my uphill neighbor’s yard from spilling into my space.  
Troy McGregor [whose garden was also on the tour] gave me a consultation early on. [...] 
My lot is small, something in the neighborhood of 5,000 square feet. Today the garden is a mish-mash of plants, but mainly a tropical dry climate fusion (kind of an oxymoron and that is why I have such a problem watering). You can’t confine a plant person to one type of plant, and I’ve gone through my phases of plant collecting, but at the moment, I have succulents, bromeliads, a little collection of begonias (mainly taking over the kitchen), and my dry collection by the street with South African bulbs and some California natives.
Ellen's words struck a chord with me, seeing how I also combine plants from a variety of geographical and climatic areas. “Fusion” may not seem like a big word, but it's become an important concept for me. That's why I'm always eager to see what kinds of plants other gardeners choose to combine, and how they do it.

Front garden. The driveway is on the right. The opening/passageway you see in the 2 o'clock position leads to the back garden.

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 💩💩💩.

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 Café 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 café. 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?