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!

Rewind a couple of months. I was asked if I was interested in going in on a group buy of cycads from a seller in San Diego County. If several of us ordered together, we'd get a significant price break and access to some unusual material. Of course I said yes.

A few weeks after that, I had the opportunity to order some plants from San Marcos Growers through another friend who has a landscape design business. I didn't have room for larger succulents but I did find a few things I hadn't been able to get on my December trip to Southern California. Those plants were ready for pickup, too.

In addition, I grabbed a few things at the Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery (which is open in spite of the ongoing visitor center construction), and then Ryan Penn, the RBG's horticulturist, took me over to the Markham Nature Park & Arboretum in nearby Concord where he runs the nursery. Markham's nursery was both larger than I had expected and exquisitely stocked with all kinds of goodies ranging from California natives, to succulents, to South African and Australian shrubs—many of them grown by Ryan and all of them for sale at bargain prices. I couldn't believe I had never been there! The Markham nursery is open every Tuesday from 9:00 am to noon, and six times a year on the weekend for special plant sales. If you're ever in the area on a Tuesday morning head on over there and stock up! Or make plans to attend one of their 2018 sales (April 14, May 5, May 6, June 16, September 15, October 20, and October 21).

My final stop was at my friend Troy's plant lot in Martinez. Troy used to be the nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden and now runs Gondwana Flora, a landscape design and build company focused on regionally appropriate low-water gardens. Troy was the one who had kindly ordered some plants from San Marcos Growers for me. I had a wonderful time catching up, and I ended up getting a few extra plants in addition to what I had ordered.

This is what our minivan looked like at the end of the day:

The numbers in the photos correspond to the plant list at the end of this post. I decided to label everything because in a few years I may need a reminder where I got want.

There's a wild mix of everything from cactus (Opuntia sulphurea, hands-down my favorite prickly pear) and succulents (a few terrestrial bromeliads [dyckia, hechtia], another dudleya) to cycads to South African shrubs and perennials to Australian shrubs and even a small Australian tree (zig-zag wattle aka Acacia merinthophora). A real grab bag of plants!

#1 in the photo below is the zig-zag wattle (Acacia merinthophora), a small Australian tree with an airy structure and long phyllodes (flattened leaf stalks that perform the functions of a traditional leaf, especially photosynthesis). It is covered with flower buds, some of which have started to open.

Here they are, all lined up for a formal group shot:

I can't get enough of this Opuntia sulphurea!

I'm very excited about these new additions. I surprised myself today by getting all of them into the ground except for the two cycads and the Hechtia 'Silver Star'. I'm still looking for the best spots for these three.

Here is a list of everything I got yesterday. As I mentioned, the numbers below match the numbers in the photos above.

 Acacia merinthophora (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)

 Dioon argenteum (Ice Blue Cycads)
 Encephalartos munchii × chimanimaniensis × eugene-maraisii (KWPalmsAndCycads.com)

 Banksia petiolaris (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)
 Dryandra (Banksia) nivea (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)

 Dorycnium hirsutum (Ruth Bancroft Garden)
 Lilium humboldtii var. ocellatum (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)

 Asteriscus sericeus (Gondwana Flora)
 Eriogonum arborescens (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)
 Psoralea pinnata (Gondwana Flora)
 Kunzea recurva (Markham Nature Park & Arboretum)

 Deuterocohnia lorentziana (Gondwana Flora)
 Dudlea cymosa ‘Giant Red’ (Ruth Bancroft Garden)
 Dyckia choristaminea (Gondwana Flora)
 Hechtia ‘Silver Star’  (Hechtia argentea x H. marnier-lapostollei) (Gondwana Flora)
 Opuntia sulphurea (Gondwana Flora)

NOTE: Alan commented below that many of the plants I bought were completely unfamiliar to him. I can relate. Quite a few of these plants are new to me as well. In fact, I hadn't heard of several of them until this past Saturday when Ryan introduced them to me—like the native Humbold lily (Lilium humboldtii var. ocellatum) or Banksia petiolaris. Several others—hairy canary clover (Dorycnium hirsutum) and Canary Island daisy (Asteriscus sericeus)—were plants I discovered on my late-December trip to Southern California. I'm always eager to try new plants, even knowing that some of them are experimental and may not survive long-term.


  1. Oh I absolutely love that Dyckia! I've been afraid to try them again due to not wanting to have my skin shredded off when weeding, but I think I'll have to give that one a go if I come across it. PS that Psoralea is VERY frost tender. I lost one in Santa Rosa during a mild winter in a protected spot. Davis is probably warmer though...

    1. Max, this dyckia is supposed to stay small (4-6 inches). But I hear you, they're nasty buggers :-)

      As for the Psoralea, I'm treating it like an experiment. I planted it in a somewhat sheltered spot against the fence. I'm hoping it will make it through the winter, but I won't be shocked if it won't.

  2. Looks like 2018 is the year of quick planting for you -- nice work! Really nice selection too, although most of those are completely unfamiliar to me. Looking forward to seeing these mature a bit.

    1. Alan, I must admit quite a few of these plants are new to me as well. In fact, I hadn't heard of some (like Banksia petiolaris) until Saturday!

  3. You're REALLY on a tear! What a haul! I hope the planting phase is as much fun as it appears the acquisition phase was.

    1. I love planting when it doesn't involve too much effort. Fortunately, most of the plants I got on Saturday were easy to put into the ground.

      The 15-gallon acacia was a bit more challenging because of roots from the Bradford pear we had removed in 2016, but I'd been working on the hole for a week so everything was ready.

  4. WOW! You've bought (and planted) how many plants in the last month or so? I am impressed, and yes, a little jealous. I'd grab that Banksia petiolaris in a heartbeat...

    1. I lost track of how many plants I planted. But I was amazed by how much space I was able to free up by removing some overgrown and/or senescent shrublets (like another Salvia greggi and a mostly dead lavender). Add to that my new-found propensity for cramscaping...

      That Banksia petiolaris was $8 at Markham. They have some real gems.

  5. That dioon is possibly my fav cycad, so I'll be looking forward to your growth reports. And most are already in the ground?! Well done!

    1. Denise, did you see Dioon argenteum at the Huntington? I meant to look when I was there but I forgot.

      My motivation for getting plants in the ground as quickly as possible is simple: I don't want to have to water all those nursery pots :-)

  6. I've had my Dioon for 10 years plus. It has 4 fronds. If it grows 2 ,2 turn brown.I guess this is an improvement over the years when I only had 2 fronds.

    1. Cycads aren't speed demons, that's for sure. And dioons are supposed to be among the faster-growing cycads! They do like nitrogen, so I try to fertilize them frequently.

  7. Great haul! Can't wait to see where you put your new kids!


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