Thursday, May 31, 2018

Desert Gardens of Steve Martino: a must-read for xeric gardeners

There was a time when I didn't know Steve Martino's name, but his signature aesthetic—vibrantly colored walls, sculptural desert plants, dramatic interplay of light and shadow—is something I've been familiar for as long as I can remember.

Previously, the only way you could see Steve Martino's work was in magazine articles. His website has great photos, but there are never enough for my taste. And with the majority of his projects being private residences, primarily in the Southwest, it's virtually impossible to visit them in person.

That's why I was so excited when a couple of years ago Steve Martino mentioned on his Facebook page that a book was in the works. That book is now here: Desert Gardens of Steve Martino, written by Caren Yglesias and photographed by Steve Gunther, published in April 2018 by Monacelli Press.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Mirador Garden: steel and succulents in Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

I usually approach gardens that are completely new to me the same way I do thrillers or suspense movies: I try not to find out too much in advance so I can go into the experience without any preconceived ideas. I find that to be more enjoyable than seeing everything through somebody else's lens.

At the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas we were given brief descriptions of each garden. I skimmed through them the night before to get a general sense but didn't read them carefully until afterwards. I might have missed a few things mentioned in the blurbs but I was able to let each garden "speak" to me on its own terms.

However, in my posts about the gardens we visited in Austin, I'll give you as much information beforehand as I can. That should help you better understand what you see in the photos.

The Mirador Garden was designed by Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. We visited Curt's own garden after the Fling; I'll have a separate post in a few weeks.

In the homeowner's words, Mirador Garden "was designed around low-water plants, and it was inspired by my travels. The fig arbor was influenced by one I saw in New Zealand. The steel-panel retaining walls out front were inspired by the botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia." (She's referring to the Jamie Durie-designed succulent garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens.)

The Corten retaining walls was the first thing I saw as I got off the bus, and I knew this garden would be special:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Revisiting Marta's garden: succulents, edible fruits and more

One of my favorite gardens here in Davis is less than 10 minutes from my house. It belongs to my friend Marta Matvienko, a plant geneticist whose personal interests include rare and unusual fruits (at least rare and unusual for our area). Marta documents her growing experiences and fruit tasting impressions here.

But fruit trees aren't the only thing Marta and her husband Alex grow. In fact, the first thing you see approaching their house are the flower spikes of two blooming octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana). They are yellow beacons visible from a block away. I have no doubt they're extremely popular with bees and possibly hummingbirds.

Agave vilmoriniana flower stalks

Monday, May 21, 2018

Redesigned Ruth Bancroft Garden nursery needs tweaking

I've probably bought more plants at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery than anywhere else. In the old days, I couldn't wait for the spring and fall plant sales when tables full of exciting succulents and other plants were set up all over the garden.

In February 2015, the nursery expanded significantly, ushering in what I consider the golden age. Under the leadership of nursery manager Troy McGregor, the nursery began to offer a large variety of South African and Australian shrubs (including many proteaceas), more succulents than ever, and even water-wise trees. A consummate plantsman originally from Australia, Troy brought in plants that simply weren't available anywhere else in Northern California, always focusing on climate appropriateness and low-water use.

But nothing lasts forever. Troy left to open his own landscape design company, Gondwana Flora. The RBG broke ground to build a multi-million dollar Visitor and Education Center, and a new executive director, Carol Laughlin, took office.

While the site preparations for the new Visitor Center were under way, the nursery did business on the north side of the garden in the green metal-frame building called Ruth's Folly. Now, with the Visitor Center foundation complete, the nursery has moved back to its old spot on the south side of the garden near the main entrance. The official opening of the nursery was last Saturday, May 19. I attended the preview party on Friday, May 18 to get a sneak peek at the new space.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Photographic proof: the garden does just fine on its own

The past month has been very busy. I spent 4½ days in Austin, TX for the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, but that hasn't been the only thing that has kept me from doing much in the garden. Work has been consuming a big chunk of my time, leaving only parts of the weekends for puttering around outside. As a result, I haven't been able to get nearly as much done as I had hoped earlier in the year. Unfortunately, that seems to have become the new normal for me—I'm sure many of you can relate.

One thing I have been doing even at the busiest times: taking photos to chronicle the goings-on in the garden. Flowers come and go—sometimes all too quickly—so a postpone-until-tomorrow approach usually means you miss out.

This post contains 70+ photos taken over the past month. Some of the flowers are nothing but a memory now, but at least I've captured them at their peak.

What these photos prove is this: No matter how much we like to think we're indispensable, our gardens do just fine without us.

Danebrog poppy (Papaver hybridum 'Danebrog') from Annie's Annuals

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Austin, TX gardens from M to Z

In part 1 of this alphabetical round-up of garden highlights from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling I went from Agaves to Lush. This installment covers the rest: Mexico to Zilker Botanical Gardens.


Texas was part of Mexico until the Texas Revolution of 1836. The relationship between Texas and Mexico has always been turbulent, and in a February 2018 CBS 11/Dixie Strategies poll 57% of Texans supported Trump's border wall. But in spite of the current political animosity towards Mexico, Texas's neighbor to the south continues to be a major cultural influence: 31% of the total population of Texas is of Mexican descent and 30% of households speak Spanish at home (source). Mexican food—and Tex-Mex, a fusion between Mexican and American cuisine—are insanely popular, and even hard-core conservatives would change their tune if Trump slapped a tariff on the import of tequila.

Food writer Lucinda Hutson's garden, our first stop on Sunday, distills the essence of Mexico into a small urban space in central Austin. Walking through the backyard gate into her Jardín Encantador is like stepping into a courtyard garden in the heart of Mexico. It's Lucinda's love song to Mexico, and I can still hear it loud and clear.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Austin, TX gardens from A to L

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent five days in Austin, Texas recently to join 90+ kindred spirits for the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling. We toured a dozen private gardens and several public gardens and visited a couple of nurseries. And on the day after the Fling, I had the opportunity to see even more gardens.

Instead of a traditional chronological overview of what we say, I'm giving you a potpourri of Austin vignettes from A to Z. This installment covers A to L, this one M to Z.


Austin and agaves go together like hands and gloves. With maybe one exception, we saw agaves in all the gardens we visited. The whale's tongue agave, Agave ovatifolia, seems to be particularly popular—no surprise there.

Agave ovatifolia at Mirador Garden

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My Texas plant haul

I'm sorry for not posting anything last week, but I was in Austin, TX for the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling. This was the 10-year anniversary of this annual gathering of garden enthusiasts from the US, Canada and beyond. The first Fling was held in Austin in 2008, so returning to the capital of Texas after Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, Asheville, San Francisco, Portland, Toronto, Minneapolis, and the DC Area made perfect sense.

I took close to 2,000 photos of the 15 gardens we toured, and I hope to start posting about them next week. In the meantime, let me know show you my plant haul. It came home with me in my suitcase:

Index: 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, Austin, TX

Cowboy boot planter at
Lucinda Hutson's
colorful Mexican-inspired garden
From May 3 to 6, I attended the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling. This annual gathering of garden bloggers from North America and the UK (and occasionally from other countries) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year in the place where it all began: Austin, TX.

This index contains all my posts relating to #gbfling2018. I'll update the list as I add new posts about the gardens we visited.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

RIP, rotting 'Frosty Blue'—welcome, 'Desert Love'

In early March I wrote about a mysterious case of rot that had affected three of my agaves: Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue', Agave 'Snow Glow', and Agave parrasana.

Agave parrasana is healing. The rot has stopped, and there's every reason to believe this specimen will pull through.

Agave 'Snow Glow' succumbed within a week of my original post and is nothing but a memory now.

Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' was one of my favorites and I was determined to put up a fight. I sprayed it multiple times with a fungicide (Daconil), keeping my fingers crossed that would do the trick. However, 'Frosty Blue' simply couldn't be saved; the rot had progressed too far. To this day, I don't know what had caused this outbreak.

This is what the area looked like on April 20, 2018: