Around the world on 6,000 sq.ft.: Brian's miniature botanical garden

A few months ago, I showed you my friend Brian's completely transformed front yard in Concord, California, about an hour from where I live. Brian is a fellow plantaholic who has assembled an impressive collection of dryland plants from all over the world—his own miniature botanical garden, you might say. This is no coincidence, considering that Brian volunteers at the nearby Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) once or twice a week. The constant exposure to one of the best succulent gardens in the country—and the master plantsmen who continue Ruth's legacy, including curator Brian Kemble, assistant curator Walker Young and horticulturist Ryan Penn—has had a profound effect on Brian's own path as a gardener. As an extra benefit, he has been able to bring home discarded plants from the RBG that would otherwise have ended up on their compost pile. Add to that an outsized green thumb, and it's no surprise that Brian's garden is flourishing.

Driveway bed

Last weekend, Brian's garden was on the Ruth Bancroft Garden's 2018 Local Gardens Tour. This is how it was described in the program:
After a delivery of four tons of rock and 30 yards of Bancroft Bedding Blend (from Contra Costa Topsoil), the lawn-to-garden transformation of this residence was quite dramatic as you will see in the before-after photos.  The backyard features a very special collection of cacti and succulents in raised beds and containers.
To see before/after photos, check out my post from June 2018.

Since there were so many visitors on Saturday, I didn't take a lot of wide-angle shots. Instead, I focused on plant groupings and individual plants to highlight the amazing variety in Brian's garden.

Let's start with the bed that separates Brian's driveway from his neighbor's:

Billy buttons (Craspedia globosa), a perennial from Down Under

Leucadendron 'Little Bit' doing great—unlike my two, which are dead

Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Wider view of the driveway bed anchored by Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Agave weberi

Mystery agave from the Ruth Bancroft Garden; not even curator Brian Kemble is able to say with certainty what it is. The blazing-red flowers behind it are a California fuchsia (Epilobium sp.).

Agave striata, with California aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia) behind it

Ice plant making a move on Dudley brittonii 
Mammillaria geminispina

Aloe castanae that isn't quite castanae

Aloe 'Tangerine' (back), Aloe capitata var. quartziticola (front)

Aloe verdoorniae sporting very cool stress colors. I have one growing in my front yard now thanks to Brian's kindness.

Agave bracteosa 'Monterrey Frost' and Aloe 'Delta Lights' in an egg pot next to the front yard

Let's cross the great chasm that is the driveway and look at the area on the other side:

I love how Brian used rocks to create smaller planting pockets

Echeverias in a sea of Delosperma

Agave 'Desert Diamond'

Echeveria agavoides

Cleistocactus straussi and Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

'Cousin Itt' looks like a soft blanket, doesn't it?

Late-summer color tapestry

'Cousin Itt' #2, looking just as good as #1 above

'Cousin Itt' is about to swallow this small Ferocactus

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) trying to hold its own against Euphorbia myrsinites

Aloe schelpei

Aloe lineatea var. muirii

Aloe lineatea var. muirii, a truly spectacular aloe

Mangave 'Macho Mocha'

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

Yucca pallida, or more likely a cross between pallida and rupicola

In the side yard, which leads around the house into the backyard,  every square inch is used. Just a few quick snaps:

Agave guiengola 'Creme Brulee' showing the most vivid stress colors I've ever seen on this cultivar

Picture-perfect sago palm (Cycas revoluta)

Now we're in the backyard. It has several distinct areas, including a brick patio with a pergola, a curving raised planter that separates the patio from the lawn, and a small shady lawn. Except for the lawn, virtually every nook and cranny is filled with plants. Many are in small pots and are easy to overlook. Don't make that mistake if you ever get to visit. Brian has an impressive collection of cactus and aloes!

Agave geminiflora

Alyogyne 'Ruth Bancroft', a "blue hibiscus" hybrid

Tasmanian tree fern (Dicksonia antartica)

New additions to Brian's aloe collection

Left: New mangave hybrids from Walters Gardens

Every nook and cranny has something interesting to discover

Grevillea 'King's Fire' and Aloe greenii

Grevillea 'King's Fire'

Aloe greenii getting ready to flower. There are several clumps in the backyard.

Aloe greenii

Brian's father built the brick planters decades ago, and they're still in great shape. On the left is a small pond (covered by the grate).

Brian cleared out the planters one by one and created softly contoured beds for succulents and Australian shrubs

An interesting side note: This is the house where Brian grew up. He moved out when he went to college but decided to sell his own house and move back in after his parents had passed away. I find it quite extraordinary, considering Americans move around so much but rarely return to where they started from.

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by  United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. I almost brought home some craspedia last week but prior failures convinced me not to. I wish I could get it to look like that! Is that a fairy duster behind it? What a fabulous garden filled with choice plants. I remember that hybrid alogyne well from past visits to RBG.

  2. So sorry I had to cancel my reservation for this tour . I was flying back from a business trip and got in too late in the day. I look forward to seeing the other gardens as well.

  3. I think what impresses me most about this beautiful garden is how well "soft" plants have been mixed in with the sharper lines of cactus and succulents. It's exceptionally well done.

  4. 'Aloe lineatea var. muirii' is stunning indeed! Your photos always show off the plants so well! Great job!

  5. An impressive collection! The stress colors on Brian's Creme Brulee are amazing! Wiping the drool from my chin.

  6. Fabulous photos of Brian's collection. I see bits and pieces online but it's nice to see an overview like this.

  7. Stunning xeric garden. Bravo, Brian!!

    Cool how he chose to live in his childhood home. Mine was for sale a while ago...and the brick planters Dad built are still there, just like Brian's.

    I can't grow Craspedia globosa any better than I can grow 'Cousin Itt'. Have killed four of each. Sigh.

  8. Every plant looks perfect! Wow! Thank you, Gerhard, for the great pictures and descriptions, and my compliments to the gardener. If he ever needs to sell one of the blue mystery agave pups, I am ready to buy.


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