Sizzle and pop: Southern California road trip curiosities

A busy spring has morphed into a busy summer. We just got back a from a quick 4-day road trip to Southern California to tour universities daughter #2 is interested in. Getting from Northern California to Southern California involves a goodly amount of driving on freeways which at this time of year range from merely busy to downright congested. In addition, traveling the length of the Central Valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield gets boring in no time. But every now and then you see random snippets of unassuming beauty that take your breath away:

Interstate 5, somewhere between nowhere and nowherer

At the Grapevine, the stretch of Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass (4,100 ft), the scenery becomes more varied.  I always look for Hesperoyucca whipplei, aka Our Lord's Candle, on the hillsides next to the freeway. Right now, they're in bloom and easy to spot. Even after all these years, I still love the thrill of seeing succulents in their native habitat.

Hesperoyucca whipplei on the south side of Tejon Pass

As we reached the northern edge of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, we were vividly reminded of how dry California is—and that it doesn't take much to set off a fire:

This was "just" a small brush fire next to the freeway, but they all start small, don't they? To add to the excitement, we actually saw the firefighters making their way to the source of the fire:

The next three days went by in a blur. I got up early each morning for some plant- or gardening-related solo activity while the family slept in. I even managed to squeeze in a brief get-together with Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden at Roger's Gardens nursery in Corona del Mar. 

Here are some teasers; I'll have more detailed posts in the weeks to come.

Central Garden at the Getty Center, with bougainvilleas in full bloom

Cactus Garden at the Getty Center in the evening light

The perfect selfie background for succulent lovers. Seen at the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society Drought Tolerant Plant Festival at Sepulveda Garden Center. Our hotel was only 2 miles away—pure luck.

Succulent chair at the Drought Tolerant Plant Festival

This is the most magnificent jacaranda tree I've ever seen! In the foreground is one of 20+ community gardens at the Sepulveda Garden Center. 

Dudleya pulverulenta in the median strip of the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. This is the first time I've seen dudleyas used like that.

Sunday afternoon on the Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Santa Monica. What were we thinking?

Santa Monica beach. Where's Waldo?

Aloidendron barberae at Santa Monica Place, an upscale open-air shopping mall


What the heck is going on here? I don't know for sure, but I think these palm tree branches are working their way through the hedge.

Newport Beach Civic Center and Park. The succulent plantings are nothing short of spectacular. 

This bed is in front of the public library. If I lived there, I'd go to the library all the time!

Magnolia grandiflora on the campus of UC Irvine

More driving...

Crimson bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) at the Leaning Pine Arboretum on the campus of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast. The Leaning Pine Arboretum was the biggest surprise of our trip. It's only 5 acres, but it has a lot of my favorite plants. The Australian Garden was particularly nice.

Formal Garden at the Leaning Pine Arboretum. At first glance, it may look like any other formal garden in the European tradition—until you see the mass plantings of octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana). I thought that was a nice New World touch!

On the way home, more endless miles through the golden hills of summer

Water, or lack thereof: a hot-button issue in the politically conservative Central Valley, as demonstrated by a plethora of signs like these

We arrived home to temperatures close to 100°F. Summer is here, for better or for worse. Winter is my least favorite season, but summer isn't far behind. I can't wait for fall!

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  1. You would not believe the amount of time I spent strategizing traffic avoidance for my road trip to Socal in March.I did pretty good for the most part but the drive from San Diego to back to Santa Barbara on a weekday took me through a couple pretty crappy LA jams even though I used some of my 'favorite' freeways. I avoid PCH at all costs unless it's 7am on a weekend or holiday, lol. I am kicking myself that I completely forgot about the Newport Beach Civic Center.I was close enough and had plenty of time to go there---dammit !

    1. I missed the Newport Beach Civic Center in December (not enough time), but I'm so glad I went this time. It's unreal!

  2. You make better use of every road trip than anyone I know, Gerhard! However, I do NOT understand why you chose to take PCH between Malibu and Santa Monica - that's not a good option on any day at any time. I'm surprised Malibu has planted Dudleyas in their road median - I guess they haven't heard that Dudleyas have become a theft target.

    1. LOL, why brave the PCH on a Sunday? Call us naive. We wanted to drive across the Santa Monica Mountains. And I'm glad we did, in spite of the traffic snarl on the PCH, because I got to see dudleyas in habitat.

      As for the dudleyas in the median, stealing them would involve putting your life at risk, considering how busy the highway is.

  3. Excellent overview, and like Kris said you pack a lot in a road trip! I still *sigh* at every photo of those bougainvillea towers at the Getty. I can’t belowive the central garden was closed during my visit. That green wall (hedge) with the palm! I love it!

    1. We went to the Getty on Saturday evening (they're open until 9 pm) but unfortunately the light was flat in the Central Garden. Someday I get to see it in good light :-)

  4. Nice photo pictorial, glad ya had a great time! My lesson of driving home on a weekend from San Diego, skip the breakfast coffee, you’ll thank me when you hit the traffic jams and there aren’t any pit stop exits!

    1. Because of the UC Irvine campus tour we didn't leave Orange County until 2 pm and had to contend with traffic all the way to Santa Barbara.

  5. The palms sticking through the Ficus(?) hedge is a hoot!

  6. That Dudleya median strip is a stunner as are those blooming Hesperoyucca. I did not know that's what they are called but I always notice them as well when I pass through the Grapevine!

    1. Hesperoyucca whipplei is actually a really nice plant. I don't know why it isn't more popular in cultivation.

  7. Oh Gerhard, I don't know how you see so much in so little time! Love the cactus couch. The plantings in front of the library are fabulous!

  8. I love everything about this post! WOWW at Newport Beach Civic Center and their library (is that right)? The hedge with palms growing through it looks like a vertical garden intentionally planted (I’m looking on a small screen, so can only see the patterns). There’s something heartwarming about you doing this with your daughter, and her future.


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