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!