Sunday, April 22, 2018

Annual pilgrimage to Poot's Cactus Nursery (part 2)

In part 1 of this post about my visit to Poot's Cactus Nursery in Ripon, CA I showed you the plantings in the front of the nursery as well as the retail sales area. In part 2 we're going inside the greenhouse that is home to the Poots' personal collection of succulents. Some of the plants are also used as stock plants for propagation.

When you think of "personal collection" you may think of a few hundred plants. Not so here. While I have no idea how many individual plants there are—I'm not even sure the Poots know—there are many thousands, maybe more than 10,000. The greenhouse is absolutely packed with plants. At least half of them are cactus, the rest euphorbias, caudiciforms, and succulents like agaves, aloes and haworthias. There are some fairly common plants, too, but many are true collector's items.

Let's go poke around!

The cactus with reddish "hats" are Melocactus, often called Turk's hat cactus

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Annual pilgrimage to Poot's Cactus Nursery (part 1)

What does it take start a tradition? If visiting the same place at the same time two years in a row counts, then I have a new tradition: an annual pilgrimage to Poot's Cactus Nursery in Ripon. Many of you may have no clue where Ripon is (here's a map) but if you've ever taken Highway 120 East to Yosemite National Park, then you've driven right by Poot's. It's located in the middle of the fields between Manteca and Escalon. Just look for the signs:


The nursery was started by Bill and Roelyn Poot 30+ years ago. It's still a family business, with son Brian managing the daily operations and Bill and Roelyn playing a hands-on role in propagation and sales. We were fortunate get a private tour of the private greenhouse which is off-limits to the public. It houses the Poots' huge collection of succulents, many of which are used for propagation. I'll have photos of the greenhouse in part 2 of this post. 

Greenhouse in the back, demonstration garden in the front. The koi pond is in front of the all the cactus.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hail the size of...

Occasionally you read about hailstones large enough to do serious damage. If they can break glass, I shudder to think what they would do to plants?!

The hail we had the other day was nothing compared to the grapefruit-sized hailstones that fell on Nebraska in 2003, but it came down fast and furious for a few minutes and made a surprisingly loud racket. Here are the three short videos I recorded from the front porch:

Monday, April 16, 2018

When a neighbor gives you free reign of her front yard

In my last post I showed you landscape designer Troy McGregor's personal garden in Martinez, CA. With permission from a neighbor across the street, Troy has planted a variety of Australian shrubs in her front yard. What an opportunity, not only to give your neighbor something attractive to look at, but also to trial plants you wouldn't have room for on your own property!

Up against the house, the existing plantings—lemons, pelargoniums, and the like—remain. They look like they've been here for decades. In fact, they give the house a fairy-tale quality, as if some 1950s version of Sleeping Beauty lives here.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Troy's garden: what does a landscape designer do with his own space?

When we remodeled our house years ago, our contractor told us that his wife always complained about the half-finished projects in their own house—he just didn't have the energy to finish them after long days at work. In a similar vein, I recently read an article about famous chefs eating fast food on their days off because they didn't have it in them to whip up fancy meals when they didn't have to.

These thoughts were on my mind as I went to visit my friend Troy McGregor a few weeks ago to pick up some plants he had for me.

For years, Troy was the nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Under his guidance, what used to be a small corner with a limited selection of plants became a premier destination nursery for succulents, Australian and South African natives, and other drought-tolerant plants.

Troy has since moved on to run his own landscape design and installation company, Gondwana Flora. Since he spends his days creating beautiful outdoor spaces for his clients, would his own garden be a patchwork of unfinished ideas or, worse, just a tangle of weeds?

As it turns out, there was no need for me to wonder or worry. While there was a project in progress when I visited (a redo of a section of backyard), the rest was ready for primetime.

Troy and his wife Vicki live at the end of their street, and there's no question which house is theirs: The landscaping in front is a lush and visually complex tapestry of texture and color. And like every plants(wo)man worth their salt, Troy has a dog. Heck, he has a cat, too! That guy's got all the bases covered!

Nothing gets past Patterson. Plant thieves don't stand a chance!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Rain makes succulents shine

Rain is always welcome in our garden, especially this winter when it's been quite sporadic. What I dread are violent rainstorms with howling winds because they can wreak havoc on tender plants. However, the rain we had yesterday and into today was the opposite: soft and gentle. Just what plants and I like.

Another upside of the rain: It makes succulents glisten like precious jewels. Here are some photos from last evening and this morning:

Aloe vaombe

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Waterwise Botanicals: succulent heaven (part 2 of 2)

I hope part 1 of my post about Waterwise Botanicals in San Diego's North County didn't overwhelm you. If it did, buckle up because you're about to be overwhelmed some more.

As I mentioned earlier, Waterwise Botanicals is a 20-acre nursery that specializes in succulents but also carries other drought-tolerant plants. Their selection is huge, and their prices are reasonable. I'd rate it a must-see stop on any San Diego County nursery tour, especially for people from Northern California and other corners of the world where that kind of nursery simply doesn't exist. (If you're a collector who already has all the common stuff you may have to look a little harder, but you never know you'll find.)

Part 1 focused on the retail area near the entrance. Part 2 covers the rest of the operation, including the demonstration garden and the growing grounds. It's OK to be jealous of the climate and all the plants they can grow in San Diego; I certainly went home wishing I didn't have to worry about freezes ever again.

The demonstration plantings (what they call the Desert Garden on the nursery map) aren't large but there are some nice specimens to admire.


Tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Waterwise Botanicals: succulent heaven (part 1 of 2)

The main reason for my recent trip to San Diego was to attend the 2018 Super Succulent Celebration, two days jam-packed with succulent-themed talks, workshops and buying opportunities. The event was hosted by Waterwise Botanicals, a much-loved nursery in Bonsall in northern San Diego County. Founded and still run by renowned plantsman Tom Jesch, Waterwise Botanicals is now part of Altman Plants, the largest succulent grower in the U.S.

I had never been to Waterwise Botanicals before, but I'd heard and read so much about it that I thought I knew what to expect. Wrong. My frame of reference are nurseries with two or maybe three acres of growing grounds and retail space. Waterwise has 20 acres! That's a lot of plants to look at! And even though Waterwise also sells perennials, including roses, most of their inventory is succulents. Hundreds and hundreds—if not thousands—of species in everything from 2-inch pots to 24-inch boxes.


I literally spent hours walking around the nursery grounds taking pictures. I tried to edit my photo loot as much as possible, but there are so many images I want to show you that I'm breaking this post down into two parts. This part focuses on the retail area near the entrance, including the Mini Succulents Shade House. The map below will give you a better idea of how the nursery is laid out.

Friday, March 30, 2018

My first drive-through nursery experience: Evergreen Nursery in El Cajon, CA

Last weekend I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in San Diego. My first stop on Friday morning was Evergreen Nursery, a wholesale grower open to the public. The company has three locations: San Diego proper, Oceanside, and El Cajon. The El Cajon location was holding an Aloe ortholopha for me, so that's where I was headed.

Evergreen Nursery is right off Interstate 8 northeast of town. Surrounded by hillsides, green at this time of year, the rural location is beautiful.


What makes Evergreen Nursery so special is that it's a drive-through nursery. That was definitely a first for me. This is how the company explains the "Evergreen System:"
Just follow the Evergreen 3 step system: 
1. Drive through or park and shop (you may load directly into your car)
2. Ask Questions
3. Pay at the Checkout Booth
Evergreen's pricing system is designed for your ease and convenience. Plants are priced by the container size. The plants are color coded (the color code is on the map). While driving, the customer can look at a field of one gallon shrubs and easily see the least expensive (yellow card) varieties and read the plant's description. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

48-hour San Diego succulent madness

I know I do crazy things now and then. Last weekend ranks right up there. I flew to San Diego from Sacramento early on Friday morning (flight time is only 1:20 hr), went to the Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals; toured one of the most beautiful private succulent gardens I've ever seen; explored Rancho Soledad Nursery, the source of many popular agaves like 'Blue Glow' and 'Blue Flame'; met up with some fellow succulent fanatics at the Succulent Cafe; and checked out Jeff Moore's nursery Solana Succulents. I arrived back home at midnight on Saturday. 48 hours of total succulent madness!

I took over 900 photos, so it'll take me a while to go through them all. Here are a few collages to give you an idea of what I saw.

My very first stop was at Evergreen Nursery in El Cajon, east of San Diego. They were holding a hard-to-find Aloe ortholopha for me. Evergreen Nursery is a wholesale-but-open-to-the-public nursery with three locations in the San Diego area. Their prices are extremely reasonable (my 5-gallon aloe was $24.50). But the most interesting thing about Evergreen: It's a drive-through nursery. You drive through the entire nursery (some 30 acres) in your own car, load up the plants you want, and on the way out you stop at a kiosk where they tally up your purchases. I'd never experienced anything like it before.

Evergreen Nursery, El Cajon, CA

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

2018 Super Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals in Bonsall, CA, March 23-24, 2018

Waterwise Botanicals, a 20-acre succulent nursery in northern San Diego County, is the place to be this Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, 2018.

Themed "A Walk on the Wild Side," Waterwise Botanicals' 2018 Super Succulent Celebration is a two-day event packed with presentations, demonstrations, and workshops for succulent lovers.

Photo © 2017 Waterwise Botanicals

The speakers include:
  • author Nan Sterman
  • author and nursery owner Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents
  • landscape designer Laura Eubanks
  • author Debra Lee Baldwin
  • author and former nursery owner Robin Stockwell
  • Waterwise Botanicals owner Tom Jesch
  • landscape designer Steve McDearmon
  • succulent hybridizer and tissue culture expert Kelly Griffin

Vendors include master potter Susan Aach whose creations complement succulents perfectly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Mangave mystery box

A couple of weeks ago I proclaimed 2018 to be the year of the mangave. This was based on the ever increasing number of hybrids becoming available in nurseries, and the growing popularity of these harmless half-siblings of the spiky agave. If you haven't seen the variety of leaf textures and colors offered by the latest crop of mangaves, check out my earlier post. I'm sure you'll find a few that you like even if you're not fond of agaves.

A week after my mangave post, UPS delivered two mystery boxes to our doorstep. Guess what was inside?

Box 1:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Unique Succulents DOT com illegally reproduces content from Succulents and More


WARNING: Unique Succulents DOT com is mirroring the content of Succulents and More without my permission. 


Stolen content from Succulents and More

The above is a screenshot of their homepage. All the posts you see there (images and text) are owned by Gerhard Bock, the author of Succulents and More.

Succulent and More has initiated legal action against the entity owning Unique Succulents DOT com for copyright infringement.

All content on Succulents and More is protected by US and international copyright laws and may not be reproduced in any form without prior express consent by the copyright owner, Gerhard Bock.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bromeliads with blooms and barbs, and other oddities in my garden

Cacti, agaves, yuccas and their kinfolk may have been around the longest in our garden, but they're not the only spiky residents. More recently, they've been joined by members of a different family: bromeliads. These aren't succulents, but they're just as alluring.

While some bromeliads have armaments as fierce as those of cacti or agaves, others are very user-friendly—especially tillandsias, the much-beloved air plants that have conquered by the world by storm in recent years. My first tillandsia experience about 10 years ago didn't have a happy ending, but I learned a valuable lesson: air plants can't live off air alone; they do need water. My current crop of tillandsias, acquired in January, lives outside in metal wall planters, and I mist them once a week (or rather, I try to). Whatever I'm doing must agree with them, because to my shock and surprise, one of them is actually flowering!

Tillandsia ionantha

This may not be a big deal to people who have more experience with tillandsias than I do, but I still think it's a minor miracle.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Peacock Horticultural Nursery: still one of my favorite places to buy plants, spiky and otherwise

On Saturday I had the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite nurseries: Peacock Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol, Sonoma County. If traffic is smooth, it's a 90-minute drive from Davis—unfortunately, not close enough to go as often as I'd like. But as you can see in this image-heavy post, it's such a special place that I've vowed to return soon.

Peacock Horticultural Nursery is owned by Robert Peacock (hence the name) and Marty Waldron. It's the kind of nursery that has become rare in this age of big box stores and garden centers: a place run by true plant lovers—plant nerds, you might say—where plants are front and center. And I'm not talking about the few dozen mainstream plants you find at Lowe's, Home Depot and OSH. What PHN carries is the antithesis of that. Or, as I like to say, the antidote. The 80+ photos below are ample proof of that.


PHN is not a sterile business in a commercial strip. Instead, it's literally Robert's and Marty's front and backyard (they live in the house right by the entrance). It just happens to be full of plants you can buy. The fact that many of them are unusual or rare makes the experience even sweeter. If you like exploring and finding plants you never even knew existed, this is the place for you!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A spiky surprise in the country

I live in Davis, about 15 miles west of Sacramento, the capital of California. Our town of 65,000 is surrounded by a flood plain to the east and agricultural land everywhere else. As soon you leave the city limits, you're in the country.

This fact became very clear when I visited Three Palms Nursery. Located about 7 miles west of downtown Davis, the nursery is located all by its lonesome in the middle of fields. A peaceful and bucolic spot indeed.

But the topic of this post isn't Three Palms Nursery although I'm planning a return trip later in the month. Rather, I want to you show you what I found on the way home.

Just before you enter Davis proper, there's an empty lot at the intersection of two county roads. Except it's not exactly empty. True, there's no house on it, but somebody has been using it as their desert garden. It's conceivable that some of the Agave americana and prickly pears appeared on their own—they do naturalize around here. But the other assorted cacti were definitely added by a human.

Let's take a look!


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rotting agaves don't hurt so good

When John Mellencamp wrote his song "Hurts So Good," he definitely wasn't thinking of two of his favorite agaves rotting away. That, my friends, does not hurt so good. In fact, it hurts quite bad.

Both agaves are next to each other in the same bed along the driveway. And a third one in the same bed is showing signs of rot, too.

Let's take a look. Be sure to grab a Kleenex.

Agave #1 is a beautiful specimen of Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue'. It's nowhere near its adult size yet, but it has such a great presence.

Look closer.


It's impossible to miss.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018: the year of the mangave

Agaves are great the way they are. But do you know what's even cooler? The love children from a hanky-panky between an agave and a manfreda!

Manfredas are succulents with soft, floppy leaves, often with pronounced purple spots. I'm sure you've seen the cultivar with wavy-edged leaves called 'Chocolate Chip' (here). Some species in the genus Manfreda are quite hardy, especially especially Manfreda virginica and Manfreda maculosa, both native to the U.S.

Now imagine combining the best qualities of both genera, manfredas and agaves. The result is bound to be special. As you look at the photos in this post, I'm sure you will agree.

From what I was able to gather, the first recorded cross between a manfreda and agave was from seed legendary plantsman Carl Schoenfeld (the last owner of the now defunct Yucca Do Nursery in Texas) collected in Mexico. The seed came from a Manfreda variegata but the seedlings clearly showed agave traits, most likely from Agave mitis blooming nearby. Yucca Do dubbed this new intergeneric hybrid "mangave" and introduced it in 2004 under the name 'Macho Mocha'. The rest is history, as they say. ×Mangave 'Macho Mocha' has conquered the world—or at least those parts of the world where it's hardy.

×Mangave 'Macho Mocha'

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our aloes are finally flowering—and how!

All things come to those who wait, they say. It certainly took a while this year for the flowers on our aloes to open. I'm convinced the inconsistent weather—cool, unseaonably warm, cool, rainy, cold—got the plants all confused. But finally, after almost two months of impatient waiting on my part, the aloes planted in the strip along the street are at their peak.

Aloe excelsa (first two photos) is flowering for the first time, and our three Aloe 'Moonglow' (orange-yellow flowers) have never had so many inflorescences. Exciting times indeed!

Let's take a look!

Aloe excelsa blooming for the first time

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cactus and aloe sightings at UC Davis (rare euphorbia, too)

On Saturday I had friends from the East Bay visiting. After a docent-led walk through the Acacia Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum, I took them to see the aloe plantings outside the Botanical Conservatory. Through a stroke of luck we ran into Ernesto Sandoval, manager and curator of the Botanical Conservatory. Ernesto is one of the most enthusiastic and generous plant people you'll ever meet, and he not only gave us a tour of the collections but also walked around with us outside to talk about the aloe plantings and the nearby Cycad Garden.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died along the way so I didn't take as many photos as I normally would. But here are some good ones for all you succulent die-hards.

Astrophytum myriostigma in the Botanical Conservatory collection

Saturday, February 24, 2018

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum in late winter: Australian Garden

In part 1 of this post I showed you the South African Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum. Many shrubs from the Proteacea family were in bloom when I visited a couple of weeks ago, including cone bushes (Leucadendron), pin cushions (Leucospermum) and Cape heaths (Erica).

The Australian Garden was even more stunning, as you will see below. I tried hard to edit myself, but this post is still image-heavy. So grab a cuppa and settle in for the duration.

We'll get to the Australian members of the Proteacea family (Grevillea, Banksia and the like) shortly, but the first plant I actually photographed in the Australian Garden was this Eucalyptus caesia, commonly know as silver princess.

Eucalyptus caesia

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum in late winter: South African Garden

The University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum is arguably the best place in Northern California to see plants from the southern hemisphere (especially South Africa and Australia) in all their glory. The mild coastal climate is virtually frost-free in the winter and rarely gets above 80°F in the summer. These are ideal growing conditions. Heck, I'm not a plant, and I want to live there!

My recent trip to Santa Cruz was successful in every respect. I drove down in an empty car and came back with a trunk full of plants. But more on that in part 2. My partner in crime on this trip was my friend Brian who volunteers at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. He's as plant-obsessed as I am and shares my fondness for Proteacea. Brian doesn't take as many photos as I do, but he was very patient with me. (I do move at a snail's pace when I'm in plant viewing mode.)


Late winter is a particularly good time to visit the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum because many members of the Proteacea family are in bloom. The photos in this post are from the South African Garden; you'll see highlights from the Australian Garden in part 2.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book review: The Colorful Dry Garden by Maureen Gilmer

For those of us gardening in the western U.S., water—or rather the lack of it—is always on our minds. The 2011-2017 drought in California was a wake-up call for many. Even though Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought to be over in April 2017, the minimal rainfall this winter is a painful reminder that drought may be the new normal. Cape Town, South Africa running out of water raises the specter of something similar happening here. While that's not likely (yet), we should still do our best to be as water-conscious as possible.

Homeowners wanting to making their landscaping more drought-tolerant often feel like they're trading in a vibrant garden for a sparse and monotonous expanse of brown. Worse yet, some simply give up altogether and cover what used to be their yard with bark or gravel. I see depressing examples of that right here in our town.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In her latest book, Palms Springs-based landscape designer Maureen Gilmer shows that there are far better alternatives. The Colorful Dry Garden: Over 100 Flowers and Vibrant Plants for Drought, Desert & Dry Times (Sasquatch Books 2018) aims to make "your garden alive with flowers and color, with birds and butterflies, so that it changes with the seasons and yet asks for few resources."


Friday, February 16, 2018

Succulents and steel: a perfect match

A few weeks ago I posted the photo on the left below as a teaser of things to come. Now it's time for the reveal. There's nothing quite like finishing a project and actually liking the result!


While I was pleased with the way the Dymondia margaretae had filled this 16-inch wide strip, I felt like I was letting an opportunity go to waste. Being the plant hoarder collector that I am, I'm always looking to free up more space for even more plants. This strip was a perfect takeover target.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Three Palms Nursery: a horticultural treasure in my own backyard

Whenever I visit a city where independent nurseries still thrive, I can't help but wish for a more active gardening and nursery community where I live. While it's unlikely that the greater Sacramento area will ever rival Portland or Seattle in that respect, we do have a few small nurseries that quietly do their thing on the edge of the mainstream.

One of them, Three Palms Nursery, is right here in Davis. Well, not in Davis per se, but just a few miles outside of town in the middle of the fields. To get there, drive west on Russell Blvd until you reach the intersection with County Road 95. You can't miss the nursery.

Yucca rostrata outside the nursery

Friday, February 9, 2018

Aloes and friends blooming in our garden

After two weeks of warm spring weather—highs in 60s and low 70s, today 75°F—we have quite a few blooms in the front yard. Aloes that have been in a holding pattern since December, as well as some of our South African bulbs, are finally in flower. I can't get enough of this boost of color and energy. I try not to get too exuberant for fear nature might punish my hubris with an unexpected cold snap, but I think we're out of the woods as far as winter goes.

I know I should hold these photos until the 15th, the official Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I'm so excited, I just can't wait!

Narcissus among the agaves

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I discovered a great nursery—and it's a Home Depot!

I don't do a lot of plant shopping at big-box garden centers although occasionally they're good for a surprise. More often than not, though, their selection is less than exciting, and sometimes their plants are not exactly healthy (see this recent post).

Last weekend I discovered that it doesn't have to be that way. For years I've been hearing rumors of the Home Depot in San Rafael, CA having a fantastic nursery. More than that, some Bay Area gardeners talk about it in almost reverent terms. In an old post from 2010, landscape designer Michelle Derviss raved:
I thank my lucky stars every time I shop at my local San Rafael Marin County CA Home Depot nursery. The nursery is on par with some of the best nurseries in United States. The guy who runs it, Charlie Rossi, is a seasoned horticultural veteran of the nursery industry. Your eyes would be blown out of their sockets if you walked into ‘his nursery’. Simply amazing. 
More praised can be found in the comments to this blog post on Garden Rant.

Plants outside the store

Why is this Home Depot garden center so good when so many others plain suck? Easy: It has a dedicated nursery manager who prides himself on sourcing the best plants.

Last weekend I finally had the opportunity (or, rather, created the opportunity) to visit this fabled place. Did it live up to the hype?

Read on to find out.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ruth Bancroft Garden: aloe there!

While the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, CA is a great place to visit at any time of year, it's particularly beautiful right now. The photo below shows you why: Many of the aloes are in bloom.

The RBG has an extensive collections of aloes, both species and hybrids. Brian Kemble, the garden's long-time curator, is a world-renowned aloe expert and has been creating hybrids for decades, many of which are planted out at the RBG.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to get into the RBG at 7:30 am as part of an open photography session. My earlier post highlights the breadth of succulents on display at the RBG. This post is all about aloes. It's not meant to be comprehensive; it simply showcases the aloes that caught my eye. If you live in Northern California, why not make plans for a visit and experience the aloe bloom for yourself?

Flowering aloe panorama

Friday, February 2, 2018

Oh Home Depot...

I don't want to get into the habit of ragging on the big-box garden centers all the time because I do buy plants there every now and then (especially from the clearance rack at Lowe's). But I get so mad when I see this:


These are otherwise fine cow-horn agaves (Agave bovicornuta) spotted at the Woodland, CA Home Depot this morning. 

I'm not quite sure what caused this damage although my money is on agave mites. But that's neither here nor there. These plants should simply not be offered for sale. 

What makes me even more angry is that the fix is so easy: Just pull the infected plants! 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ruth Bancroft Garden: everything but the kitchen sink

Last Saturday the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek opened early for a 7:30 am sunrise photography session. This was not a traditional workshop; instead, participants were able to do their own thing and turn to instructor John Ricca for assistance as needed.

I loved being able to roam free for 2½ hours before the garden opened to the public. Even though there were a dozen photographers in attendance, there was very little talking. Instead, everybody was focused on taking pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet.

As I was walking through the garden, Ruth Bancroft was very much on my mind. She passed away in November at the age of 109, but she left behind a marvelous gift for us and future generations. The fact that she didn't start her succulent garden until she was in her 60s should be an inspiration for us all: You're never too old to create something new!

Yucca rostrata (right) at sunrise

This post includes photos of just about everything in the garden exception for aloes. Many aloes were in flower and putting on a fantastic show so I'm going to dedicate an entire post to them (coming soon).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Heavy-duty plant-shopping → trunk full of plants

On Saturday, I made the 50-minute drive to Walnut Creek to attend two morning events at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. The first was a 7:30 am sunrise photography session followed by a 10:00 am class on proteaceae (shrubs like grevilleas, banksias, leucospermums, leucadendrons, etc.) where, among other things, I got to demonstrate how to plant a groundcover banskia and I learned that I wasn't adding enough sulphur to our alkaline soil to make it more acidic. (And that coffee grounds as a mulch are good because they attract earthworms.)



I'll have a separate post with my best images from the sunrise photography session. Today I want to show you my plant haul. I still can't believe I came home with as many new plants as I did. Serendipity or insanity? Something it's a fine line!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

South Coast Botanic Garden: new life on top of a landfill

You've never heard of the South Coast Botanic Garden? I don't think it would have been on my radar either if it hadn't been for the occasional post by Kris Peterson on her blog Late to the Garden Party. In an area full of A-listers like the Huntington and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the South Coast Botanic Garden (SCBG) is probably only on the B- or C-list. But that's OK. Not everybody strives to be a superstar. Life is more relaxed, and there are far fewer paparazzi to deal with.

The SCBG is just 5 miles from Kris's house, and I gladly accepted her offer to show me around. The sun was already low in the sky when we arrived, and we were rushing through the various areas to see as much as we could before we ran out of light. I definitely want to go back in the late spring or early summer when more flowering plants are in bloom.

One area that looks good year-round is the Desert Garden. Spiky plants don't need flowers to impress. More photos from the Desert Garden in a little bit.

Desert Garden

The history of the South Coast Botanic Garden is quite remarkable.

Monday, January 22, 2018

New plants, new projects, new blooms

While our winters are never severe here in Davis (hardiness zone 9b), January is usually a month of planning, not of doing. This year it's a little different, for a couple of reasons: While over the past few weeks the weather has been gray and/or foggy, without much sun, temperatures are still in the high 50s or low 60s during the day—good for planting. In addition, I brought home a bunch of plants from my Southern California trip and I've bought some more locally. All of them had to go in the ground because the last thing I want is to have more pots to keep hydrated.

For once, I didn't dilly-dally. Everything I bought in the last month has been planted. Below is proof .(The only exception are the Tillandsia bergeri offsets I got from Kay in Orange County; they'll be used in a separate project.)


As you look at these photos, please bear in mind that many areas are still rough and need finishing touches, including top dressing (gravel or bark mulch, depending on my mood and budget). But I'm glad I got going so the new plants have time to get established before the summer heat arrives. While that may seem like a long way off, it'll be here before we know it.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Visiting Kris of Late to the Garden Party

Late to the Garden Party is one of the gardening blogs I read religiously. It chronicles the evolution of Kris Peterson's garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula west of Long Beach. Kris is a well-rounded gardener, growing everything from succulents and bromeliads to proteacea to roses and daylilies. In her triweekly posts, she documents developments in her own garden—success and failures alike—as well new plant acquisitions and visits to local nurseries and gardens.

On my late-December trip to Southern California I had the opportunity to visit Kris's garden in person. Having seen so many photos over the years, I had a pretty good idea in my head of how it was laid out. But in reality, everything was flipped, i.e. what I thought would be on the west side is on the east side, etc. Has that ever happened to you?

Kris was in the front garden when I arrived, so that's where we started our tour. The photo below is from Google Street View and while some things have changed since it was taken in October 2014, the basic layout is still the same.

Google Street View image of Kris's house © Google Inc.

After my visit I realized that I didn't take nearly enough photos of Kris's garden. The light was very contrasty, which makes it difficult to get good pictures. More importantly, however, Kris and I got along so famously that we spent all our time yakking (or, as I prefer to call it, conferring on botanical and horticultural matters).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sherman Gardens: home of the world's most famous succulent mosaic

Before my recent trip to Southern California, the only thing I associated with Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar is the succulent mosaic created by Matt Maggio. I'm sure you've seen photos of it; there are quite a few on Pinterest and other social media sites. Here's a section of it:


As it turns out, the succulent mosaic is just one part of the Succulent Garden, which was completely renovated in 2005-2006 with Matt Maggio's help. And the Succulent Garden is only one of a dozen different gardens; see this interactive map for an overview.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Kay's garden: hillside haven for succulents and bromeliads

When I visited Piece of Eden on my Southern California trip at the end of December, Hoover Boo took me to see her friend Kay's garden a few streets away. Kay and her husband bought their ¾ acre hillside hideaway in the 1970s. There were very few houses in those days. Now virtually all buildable land has been built on although the area is still peaceful and quiet, probably due to the fact that most properties are large (½ acres or more, it seems). I'm sure the residents are happy that their corner of the world continues to feel like a sanctuary far removed from the hustle and bustle of Orange County, which is home to over 3 million people and major attractions like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Left to right: Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass', Aloe cameroniiAgave 'Mr Ripple'

Kay's garden has many different faces. Looking up from the bottom of the east slope, you see agaves and aloes. Yet approaching the front of the house...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roger's Gardens: what a nursery should be

Day 2 of my late-December trip to Southern California began with a visit to Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar (basically Newport Beach). Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden and her husband go to Roger's regularly, and they had been very enthusiastic about the demonstration garden along the road. While annuals and perennials in the display beds are swapped out periodically throughout the year, the aloes and agaves seem to be a permanent fixture.

My timing couldn't have been better because the aloes were in full bloom. The local police should put up signs instructing drivers to keep their eyes on the road instead of looking at the aloes!


Roger's Gardens was started by Roger McKinnon in 1965 in Costa Mesa. Gavin Herbert bought the business in 1970 and moved it to its current location in 1975 where it's become a destination for Orange County gardeners. The company now has over 100 employees and offers landscape design and event services in addition to the nursery and the attached shops (home and garden decor, gourmet food, jewelry) and the Farmhouse restaurant.

Roger's Gardens is the kind of nursery where every plant looks well cared for, where nothing appears out of place, and where employees actually know something about plants. Given today's cheaper-is-better big-box mindset, that's the exception rather than the rule. Yes, you pay more, but you get an experience, including a beautiful display garden.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Piece of Eden truly is a slice of paradise (part 2)

Piece of Eden is one of my favorite gardening blogs. It chronicles the evolution of Hoover Boo's garden in Orange County where you can grow just about anything without having to worry about frost.

The limiting factor in the Southland is water, or rather the lack of it. Remember the 1970s Albert Hammond song "It Never Rains in Southern California?" It's certainly no less true today. That's why mixing Mediterranean climate plants—not only from the Mediterranean Basin but also from South Africa and Australia—with succulents makes eminent sense. Hoover Boo has been on the leading edge of that movement for years, and her garden is a shining example of how utterly beautiful this fusion can be.

As I mentioned in part 1, I had the good fortune of visiting Piece of Eden at the end of December, and I snapped hundreds of photos. In this post I'll show you the plantings along the street—what Hoover Boo calls the "front slope" in her blog. When I saw this botanical wonderland, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I now want my own slope so I can replicate this. Plant tapestries only look this good on an incline; otherwise the plants in the back tend to recede into the background.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Piece of Eden truly is a slice of paradise (part 1)

The first destination on my recent trip to Southern California was a slice of succulent paradise: a Piece of Eden, one might say. Many of you will recognize the name: Piece of Eden is Hoover Boo's popular blog about her garden in Orange County. If you've followed Piece of Eden over the years, you know how much work has gone into transforming what could have been a typical (i.e. boring) suburban garden into a showcase for water-wise plants. Yes, there are many succulents, but Hoover Boo also gravitates towards plants from other Mediterranean climate zones around the world, including shrubs from South Africa and Australia. Her plant palette is so much in line with my own taste that I'd like to think, somewhat grandiosely maybe, that my garden would look much like hers if I lived in the same climate (zone 10a, no frost to speak of).

What curb appeal! My shoebox of a car notwithstanding.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 1,000 mile Southern California succulent adventure

I just got back from a 5-day whirlwind road trip to Southern California. I had the pleasure of meeting up with three of my favorite garden bloggers (Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden, Denise of A Growing Obsession, and Kris of Late to the Garden Party) and was reminded again of how wonderful it is to hang out with like-minded plant nerds. I also visited some new-to-me public gardens (Sherman Library and Gardens, South Coast Botanic Garden, Getty Center, Deutsch Cactus Garden) and returned to some favorite haunts (Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Huntington). Finally, I stopped at a bunch of nurseries and loaded up the car with a treasure trove of plants. Now I need to find room for everything I bought!

I'll be going through my 1,300 photos in the weeks to come and will have detailed posts on all my destinations. Today I want to give you a sneak peek of what I saw.

My first stop was at Hoover Boo's Piece of Eden in Orange County. Having followed her blog for many years, I felt like I knew her garden very well, but I was still surprised by how large it is and how many separate areas there are. It truly is a paradise full of succulents, southern hemisphere shrubs, roses, citrus trees, bromeliads, and more!