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

Here are few more photos of these two agaves:

The bed along the sidewalk is also home to a bunch of Echinopsis, most of which either have buds...

...or are already blooming:

The flower power continues as you approach the front yard:

The flowers on this pomegranate tree are amazing:

Aloe buhrii

The large tree in the corner of the front yard is a × Chitalpa tashkentensis, an inter-generic hybrid between two US natives: the desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and the southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonoides). This hybrid was created in the 1960s in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (then part of the Soviet Union) and introduced to the US in 1977. It's hardy at least to zone 7, possible zone 6.

Marta's chitalpa is 15+ years old and mature. I recently bought a pink-flowering chitalpa cultivar called 'Pink Dawn' for my mother-in-law's place in the mountains. It's just a few feet tall, but it's already starting to bloom.

This is possibly my favorite view of the front yard:

Yep, there are two more flowering Agave vilmoriana, making it a total of four. Agave vilmoriana produces bulbils on its flower stalk—literally hundreds of them, if not thousands. Marta will drown in them!

Look at these little buggers growing in the crack between two pavers. They're Agave bracteosa pups striking out on their own.

Tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) is a plant you see all over town, always in a different place since they readily reseed. I count five of them in Marta's front yard, but there may have been more. They're done blooming, will set seed and then die, but the look great even now.

The Echium wildpretii are done blooming, but the towers are still impressive. Soon there'll be tens of thousands of seeds.

More vignettes from Marta's front yard:

Agave americana 'Marginata'

Aloe marlothii

This white and purple Australian violet (Viola hederacea) is a colonizer with invasive tendencies, like so many violets, but it's oh so pretty

Aeonium and Aloe striata flowers

Aloe ferox

Aloe aculeata

Agave applanata 'Cream Spike' offset popping up quite a few feet from the mother, which isn't even there any more (it has been moved elsewhere)

Denmoza rhodacantha

Another lush vignette in the front yard

Sago palm (Cycas revoluta) and Agave filifera

Another Aloe marlothii

And another Aloe aculeata

Upside down Mammillaria matudae

Now we're around back. Actually, in one of the side yards. While I have untold succulent offsets in small pots, Marta has just as many fruit tree seedlings:

And some cactus babies for good measure:

Blooming orchid cactus (Epiphyllum hybrid/cultivar):

First view of the backyard. Notice the dragon fruit cactus (pitaya) on the right:

I really like this concrete seating area:

But what I like even more is this pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana aka Feijoa sellowiana):

It's the most floriferous pineapple guava I've ever seen:

Another dragon fruit cactus (Hylocereus sp):

Succulently speaking, the far corner of the backyard is where the action is:

Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) on the left, Aloe marlothii on the right, Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae) in the front

What's not to love about this spot?

I really had to pull myself together...

...because I wanted nothing more than to lay down on that daybed!

This large Aloe marlothii is a curious sight. The center rotted due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances Marta thinks that it will be OK, and I agree. It may split and end up with multiple heads.

We'll finish our tour in the side yard on the street side—behind the wooden fence on the left are the two flowering Agave vilmoriana shown in the photo at the beginning of this post.

This is the way to grow Passiflora for fruit production

Passion flowers are hard to beat when it comes to sheer beauty. And passion fruit is the best-tasting fruit there is in my book. In fact, I could eat passion fruit all day, every day, if had access to it. I fondly think back on our past trips to Hawaii where we bought passion fruit, called lilikoʻi in Hawaiian, by the bag. 10 for a $1 on the Big Island!

More epiphyllums hanging from an avocado tree with half a dozen grafted varieties

Many people, myself included, combine succulents with other plant groups, be it California natives or Mediterranean plants. But Marta is the only one I know who combines them so attractively with edible-fruit plants!



  1. That pineapple guava is amazing. There were many of those in Austin too, they make a pretty landscape plant, and sweet fruit! And what a unique combination of plants

  2. And to think I was thrilled to discover a couple dozen buds on my Pineapple Guava plants! Marta’s garden is outstanding, so many beautiful specimens. I love that the Echium towers are still standing (and green!) rather than falling over like so many of them seem to do. How does her lot size compare to yours?

  3. Beautiful mature garden, love it! I think I might of met Marta, last year at a slideshow presentation put on by The Ruth Bancroft Garden, and she brought a box full of A. vilmoriana bulbils to give away, I’ve got 5 of them in pots in my garden.

  4. I love gardens like these that that have so much plant wealth to explore. Another aloe to look out for at the sales (aculeata). And what an enormous plicatillis! It'll be interesting to see if that marlothii recovers.

  5. The cactus growing upside down is a hoot. And what a display from the Agave vilmoriniana! Were they all planted at the same time, or did something about this year's weather the prompt the simultaneous bloomfest?

    1. I bought this Mammillaria matudae this way from Poot house of cactus. This species grows naturally this way as it hangs gown from vertical cliffs. All vilmirinianas were planted the same year, I have 6 more of the same age that decided to postpone blooming to next year

  6. Those Agave flowers, oh my! Great pictures as always! So much variety, we are really spoiled in a Mediterranean climate with the sheer choice of plants that can be accommodated in the landscape.

  7. That is someone who really knows how to garden!


Post a Comment