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).

Saturday started out overcast but the sun did break through a few times just after sunrise. By 9:30am most of the high fog had burned off and the light became glary and contrasty—time to put away the camera. Fortunately, I'd already taken 200 photos!

Looking toward the construction area where the new Visitor and Education Center is being built

Weeping myall (Acacia pendula) and agaves

Zigzag wattle (Acacia merinthophora)

Acacia merinthophora flowers

The red-flowering shrub is Templetonia retusa

Templetonia retusa is native to South and Western Australia

It's a member of the pea family (as you might have guessed from the flowers) and goes by the common name "cockies tongue," "cockie" being short for cockatoo

Acacia aphylla, known in Australia as the leafless rock wattle. As the name already suggest, it has no leaves. Photosynthesis is done by the blue-green wiry stems. This reduces the surface area through which precious water could be lost through transpiration, allowing the shrub to survive very harsh conditions.

Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi'

Aloe 'Snow Glow'

Yucca 'Bright Star'

Moroccan mound (Euphorbia resinifera)

Euphorbia meets euphorbia: The medusa heads on the left are likely hybrids, the one of the right looks like Euphorbia esculenta. The blue-gray plant is Euphorbia myrsinites.

More Euphorbia myrsinites, creeping along between clumps of Mammillaria geminispina

Mammillaria geminispina and Euphorbia myrsinites

Barrel cactus with brilliant red spines. Possibly Ferocactus pilosus.

Lobivia formosa (left) and Echinocactus grusonii (right)

Yucca linearifolia

Back to front: Agave ovatifolia, Cylindropuntia sp., and what looks like a cross between Agave bovicornuta and Agave colorata

I received a similar looking agave hybrid from Greg Starr (he named his 'Mad Cow')

Agave colorata and Opuntia sulphurea

Opuntia sulphurea

Notocactus magnificus

Cactusland against the east fence

This is one of the classic vignettes at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. The plastic-covered frame on the left is to protect sensitive cacti against excessive rainfall.

This Agave pablocarrilloi (better known under its former name Agave gypsophila) sending up a flower stalk, marking the beginning of the end

Echeveria 'Lace'

Echeveria 'Lace'

Variegated Agave potatorum, possibly 'Snowfall'

Arctostaphylos 'Ruth Bancroft', a truly stunning manzanita hybrid that popped up in the garden a few decades ago (probably involving Arctostaphylos glauca, the common bigberry manzanita)

Arctostaphylos 'Ruth Bancroft' flowers

Arctostaphylos 'Ruth Bancroft' flowers

Another Yucca 'Bright Star'

Tradescantia pallida looking sharp against this moss-covered rock

Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass'

One of the newest additions to the garden

Aeonium close-up I

Aeonium close-up II

Aeonium and Aloe mutabilis

Aeoniums and Agave americana (planted by Ruth Bancroft as Agave rasconensis)

Agave americana 'Variegata'. The silver shrublet in this photo and in the two below is cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii), another wonderful gift of nature from Australia.

Agave ovatifolia, Dryandra blechnifolia (or Banksia pellaeifolia, depending on whether you're a splitter or a lumper)  and Leucophyta brownii

Agave ovatifolia and Leucophyta brownii

Cantua volcanica, a perennial from Peru

Cantua volcanica

Cantua volcanica

Leucadendron sp. from South Africa

Hakea lehmanniana from Australia

Hakea lehmanniana. The flowers are a very pale blue.

Featherhead (Phylica pubescens), one of my favorite South African shrubs, looking particularly stunning when backlit

Phylica pubescens

Leucadendron 'Ebony' with vibrant new growth

Eremophila nivea, easily the most striking of the emu bushes from Down Under

Eremophila nivea

Agave shawii, native to Baja California

Agave parrasana

Another Agave parrasana getting ready to flower

Look at that flower stalk!

Photographer communing with Agave parrasana


All posts about the Ruth Bancroft Garden


  1. You and Kathy have all the fun! Thank you for sharing so many stunning photos. Please go back monthly and record the bloom spike on the Agave pablocarilloi (hate the new name) okay?

    1. I'll be back at the RBG for Ruth Bancroft's Celebration of Life on Feb 17. I'll put an update of the Agave pablocarrilloi. In case anybody is interested, here's the official description.

      In very simplified terms, if it produces offsets, it's A. pablocarrilloi. If it's solitary, it's A. gypsophila. Most of the plants in the trade are A. pablocarrilloi.

  2. What a pleasure it must have been to enjoy this garden in the gentle light of morning, the way one would his/her own garden. Fabulous pictures as always!

  3. The 'Vanzie' behind the 'Bright Star', what a stunner!!! Ditto the bovicornuta/colorata hybrid, and where where can I find Eremophila nivia? Gorgeousness.

    What fun to share a quiet morning with nothing but birdsong and the happy clicking of cameras.

    1. I can't wait to do it again. Even if it means getting up at 5:30 am :-)

      I asked Ryan Penn, the RBG's horticulturist, about Eremophila nivea. He said they got theirs from Jo O'Connell at Australian Native Plants in Ojai. It needs perfect drainage--something you definitely have.

    2. The nursery that burnt down. 8-(

  4. You and Kathy made terrific use of the wonderful opportunity to wander around this astounding garden in the early hours. I love that opening shot. And I was surprised by the number of wonderful plants I've never heard of, like the Templetonia refusa and the Cantua volcanica. I think you may have convinced me to try Phylica pubescens again too - maybe I'll eventually find a spot where it's happy.

    1. I had no idea what that red-flowering shrub was; Ryan Penn, the RBG's horticulturist, provided the ID.

      Cantua volcanica was ID'ed in the RBG's monthly "What's in Bloom?" flyer.

      Phylica pubescens: It's too pretty a plant to give up on without a fight :-).

  5. I had the same question about E. nivea. And now my new tentative trip north will be looking to include Feb 17 at the RBG. That's an easy-to-remember distinction about the Gypsum agaves -- mine is def. pablocarrilloi!

    1. Denise, you're reasonably close to the source of Eremophila nivea (i.e. Jo O'Connell's place).

      Please let me know if you think you'll make it to Ruth Bancroft's Celebration of Life in the 17th. It would be wonderful to meet up.

  6. Your close ups sure turned out nice ! The tripod did it's job with distinction. And of course we took a few really similar photos- Notocactus magnificus is one that is almost identical---except your is sharper lol. I can't wait to see your Aloe post ! I had Alice put me on the waiting list for the Aloe walk this Saturday(it's full) as part of my Aloe ID improvement project.


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