Friday, November 30, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 4

Day 4 of my ATSCRT (After-Thanksgiving Southern California Road Trip) started with a visit to Australian Native Plants in Casitas Springs, less than 10 miles northeast of Ventura where I had spent the night. The nursery is owned and operated by Jo O'Connell and her husband Byron Cox. Jo is a tour de force in the plant world. Through patience, perseverance and lots of hard work, she and Byron have built a one-of-a-kind niche business that now offers the largest selection of Australian plants in the U.S.


I first met Jo in 2016 at a presentation she gave at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and had been wanting to visit her nursery ever since. 

Since Australian Native Plants is not a regular retail nursery with set hours, I'd contacted Jo ahead of time to make sure she was around on Thursday. Jo and Byron own three adjacent lots so there's plenty of space for the greenhouses and growing areas. The back entrance to the nursery is right across from a church so it was easy to find.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 3

Day 3 of my after-Thanksgiving Southern California road trip began with a visit to Rancho Vista Nursery, a large wholesale grower in Vista in northern San Diego County. They have been in operation for 40 years and grow over 500 species of succulents and cacti on 10 acres (6 acres of greenhouses and 4 acres of outdoor growing space). 

Ryan Penn, the former horticulturist at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, recently started working at Rancho Vista as their new nursery manager. He showed me around and told me a little about the business. Because of its mild climate and year-round growing season, northern San Diego County has more wholesale succulent growers than any other area in the country. For example, many cacti sold in Arizona nurseries actually come from here. In addition, I was surprised to find out that common succulents like aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) and the humble jade plant (Crassula ovata) are among the biggest sellers.

Countless in-ground specimens of silver torch cactus (Cleistocacactus strausii) waiting to be dug up 

Southern California road trip, day 2

My good intentions of posting a daily update from my Southern California road trip didn't quite translate into reality. Sometimes a full day of taking in new sights, talking to fellow plant nerds, as well as driving—the one constant—can be more tiring than I initially realize.

So, a day late, here are some photos and observations from Tuesday, day 2.

Day 2 started with a visit to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, northeast of Burbank. Los Angeles nurseryman Theodore Payne (1872-1963) is considered to be the father of the native plant movement in California. The Foundation owns 22 acres of canyon land, featuring walking trails (the wildflower trail is said to be spectacular in the spring), a couple of demonstration gardens, and arguable one of the best California native plant nurseries in the state. At the end of a long, dry summer the native vegetation wasn't at its prettiest (that's just how it is), but the nursery lived up to my expectations. I'd made a shopping list ahead of time and found everything I was looking for, mostly garden-tolerant manzanitas and a couple of white-flowering, cold-hardy ceanothus for my mother-in-law's garden.

Andy Siekkinen with some of his plants in the greenhouse at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden/Claremont Graduate University

Stop #2 was Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont (Theodore Payne helped establish it in 1926 in a different location and he was still active when it moved to its present site in 1951). Attached to the campus of Claremont Graduate University, it houses CGU's botany department.

I met up with Andy Siekkinen, one of the world's leading experts on hechtias and a walking and talking reference library on terrestrial bromeliads. Andy is doing groundbreaking research on hechtias that I'm sure will bring new order into a poorly studied and taxonomically confused genus. He's also a passionate grower of hechtias and other terrestrial bromeliads, and he generously took time out of his busy day to show me his plants in the greenhouses. I was amazed by the sheer quantity, but he said it's only a small part of his collection; most of it is at his house in San Diego.

Andy has the rare gift of being able to explain complex scientific matters in terms that non-scientists like me can understand, and he does so with an enthusiasm that is electric and infectious. In addition, he's just a nice guy who doesn't make you feel like an idiot if you miss something. My visit with him was the highlight of my trip so far.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Southern California, here I am again...

I've been overworked and overstressed for far too long, so I'm taking a much needed break. There's nothing better for me to relax than go on a 1000+ mile road trip in 6 days. Crazy, I know.

I left on Monday morning with a full tank of gas and the navigation system set for Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino/Pasadena.


Day 2 will be Theodore Payne Foundation, Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens, and on to Oceanside in San Diego County. I'll spend day 3 visiting succulent friends in northern San Diego County, and then on to Ventura. Day 4 will be Taft Gardens in Ojai and a visit to Jo O'Connell's Australian Native Plants Nursery in nearby Casita Springs. Day 4 I'll spent in Santa Barbara visiting my friend Deana, and on day 5 I'll swing by Las Pilitas Nursery near San Luis Obispo. Throw in a predicted 1 to 1.5 inches of rain in a couple of days, and it should be quite an adventure!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A love letter to color, life, and tequila: the Austin, TX garden of Lucinda Hutson

Love at first sight is real, folks. One look at Lucinda Hutson's little purple house was all it took, and I was a goner. 

It happened in early May at the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas. Thanks to Lucinda, the color purple will forever be linked in my mind with her Casita Morada, her jewel box of a house built in the 1930s.


Lucinda Hutson is not just a color picker extraordinaire, she's a passionate gardener, cookbook and lifestyle writer, and expert on spirits made from the humble agave: pulque, mescal, and above all tequila.

Lucinda was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. She learned Spanish at an early age and, as a teen, frequently hung out in Juárez, El Paso's sibling on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jacarandas, succulents and a selfie: Sepulveda Garden Center

The smoke from the hellish Case Fire in Paradise, about 90 miles north of here, has been making our air hard to breathe all week. But that's a minor annoyance compared to what those in the middle of it are going through. The flames got to within a few hundred yards of my brother-in-law's property outside of Chico, but fortunately they were spared. So many haven't been. The loss of life in Paradise has stunned Northern California and, with many hundreds still left unaccounted for, will only go up. The destruction of virtually an entire town is simply unfathomable. My thoughts continue to be with the thousands of people affected by this catastrophic wildfire.


To counteract all the ugliness, I want to show you some beauty I found in Southern California in early June. We spent the first night of our trip in in Sherman Oaks, and as I was futzing around on Facebook, I noticed that the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society was going to have its 2018 Drought Tolerant Plant Festival the following day at a place called Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino. I'm not very familiar with the San Fernando Valley, and I had no idea where Encino was relative to our location. Imagine my surprise when Google Maps told me that the Sepulvedea Garden Center was less than two miles from our motel! What's better than the gift of serendipity?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Creating a demonstration garden for the Sacramento C&SS

The Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society (SCSS) meets every 4th Monday of the month at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center (SGA&C) on McKinley Boulevard. The two are almost the same age: The SCSS was founded in 1960, and the SGA&C was built in 1958 by the City of Sacramento. If you want to see what it looks like, check out this photo gallery.

According to its website, the SGA&C is "an outstanding example of mid-twentieth century architecture:"
Most notable of its exterior features is the dramatic roof line that combines an A-line form with that of a "butterfly" style appendage that extends over the patio. This in dramatic contrast to its surrounding neighbors which are noted for the popular styles of architecture from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The Center, as was common in the late 1950s, utilizes stone and wood with flair and exuberance. One of its more notable features on the interior is the massive two-sided fireplace made of flagstone and terrazzo, with a glass mosaic on one side and a huge copper vent on the other. The broad hearth serves as seating, making this feature the heart of the building. 
The "broad hearth," incidentally, is usually the place where I sit during presentations.

As one of the plant clubs meeting at the SGA&C, the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society was recently asked to participate in a re-beautification project: Each club is given an area outside the Center to create a demonstration garden that reflects the club's interests. Here is our area:


Last Saturday, SCSS volunteers met to get started on our demonstration garden. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Succulents and More expanding north—and bamboo-in-law update

A trunk full of plants always makes my heart beat faster. Especially if it's our car filled with plants!


These plants, however, weren't for our own garden. Instead, they went on a 3½ hour car ride into the mountains, bound for what I jokingly call our northern garden expansion, a.k.a. my mother-in-law's 2+ acre property in Mount Shasta.

Of the 2+ acres, no more than ½ acre is landscaped. The rest are native trees, mostly Western redcedar (Thuja plicata). In other words, there's lots of room to broaden the plant palette!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Barrie Coates' tranquil Green Valley garden, complete with bonsai

The third garden I visited a few Sundays ago with the California Horticultural Society (CalHort) is located in Green Valley outside of Fairfield, about 35 minutes west of here. Climatically speaking, Green Valley is in between San Francisco Bay with its mild winters and summers and the Sacramento Valley with its somewhat colder winters and blazing-hot summers. It's not quite Goldilocks country, but almost (and certainly closer than we are)

The garden we toured belongs to Carol and Barrie Coate. Now retired, Barrie has been a leading figure in California horticultural circles for decades: as a consulting arborist, director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (now part of UC Davis), arboricultural consultant to the Getty Center, and author of numerous articles and books.

Barrie and his wife Carol moved to Green Valley in 2014. They inherited a number of mature trees and shrubs but have added everything else you see in the photos below. The soil in their area can only be described as a gardener's dream: 20 ft. deep class-1 soil with consistent water at 6 inches. Barrie said he's now able to grow finnicky plants that he was never able to grow before.

50-year old mayten tree (Maytenus boaria)

Friday, November 2, 2018

East Bay Wilds native plant nursery: nothing ordinary about it

I'd heard whispers of East Bay Wilds for a while:
► “I think it's in Berkeley. Maybe Oakland. Somewhere over there.”
►“Never been there myself, but I've heard it's great.”
► “It's hardly ever open, but it has stuff you can't find anywhere else.”
► “You have to go. They have all kinds of stuff, not just plants.”

I love nothing more than a challenge so to the Interwebs I went. It turns out that East Bay Wilds is a small nursery in Oakland that specializes in California natives. It's the brainchild of Pete Veilleux, a plantsman and garden designer who maximizes the use of natives in his residential and commercial work. You can read more about the history of East Bay Wilds on their website.