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!