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. 

As you can see in the photo above, the Center had cleared the area for us. I believe it had been mostly azaleas and English ivy (Hedera helix). In addition, SCSS president Mariel Dennis had worked on removing more ivy to the left but it was very slow going. Ivy has its place, but I pity the people who have to rip it out decades later.

The first step was to lay heavy-duty weed control fabric to prevent the ivy from coming back, should any of it be left in the soil. The small trees left standing are camellias; they're laden with flower buds right now.

We had just finished laying the weed barrier when the truck from Cascade Rock showed up. Mariel had ordered 16 cubic yards of loam mixed with ⅜" red lava rock as well as 5000 pounds of boulders. Three big piles for us to move!

The next five hours were spent distributing the soil to create planting mounds.

I don't know how many wheelbarrow loads I moved but my muscles were aching at the end of the day.

Smoke from the hellish Camp Fire in Paradise, about 90 miles north of Sacramento, cast an eerie light and pushed the air quality towards the unhealthy range. It probably wasn't the best day to be working outside.

The rocks were placed by Mariel's handyman and his son. Fortunately, they were able to do it without needing help from us feebly-bodied volunteers (Mariel, JoEllen, and me). 

Planting was the most enjoyable part of this project, as it always is. Ironically, it only took 30 minutes, compared to the 5+ hours of moving dirt.

We planted right on top of the weed control fabric. I doubt the roots will be able to penetrate it, but there is plenty of soil to sustain the plants (it's as much as 3 ft. deep in places). Irrigation is from three pop-up sprinklers along the perimeter of the bed. They were sufficient to keep the azaleas, camellias and ivy going all these years and should be perfectly sufficient for our purposes.

All three of us (Mariel, JoEllen and me) had brought plants from our own garden. In addition, Mariel had bought a couple of dozen plants at Poot's Cactus Nursery—a big thanks to Poot's for giving us a discount.

The plants from Poot's included three golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), a fire barrel (Ferocactus gracilis var. coloratus), three Agave × leopoldii, three Agave macracantha, three Agave 'Blue Glow', an Agave 'Kissho Kan', and an assortment of smaller echeverias and sempervivums.

LEFT: Agave americana 'Mediopicta Alba' from my garden   RIGHT: Agave angustifolia 'Marginata' from Mariel's garden

There is still plenty of room left for additional plant donations. Now that the groundwork has been laid, I think we'll see more interest from SCSS members.

Our biggest concern at the moment is potential vandalism or theft. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that passers-by will enjoy what we did without helping themselves to our plants.

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  1. I expected to see a bigger crew, but at least you did the work of one! Whew! Planting in that loose stuff and without any real digging must have been so much fun! It's going to be nice seeing your updates on this over time.

    1. Planting was dreamy. You could dig a hole with your hands!

      I was hoping more volunteers would show up, but mobilizing people is always a challenge in an organization like that.

  2. You might want to top dress with some half inch gravel, since it will help with keeping weeds down, and will protect the soil from blowing around when maintenance blows the leaves out of the bed. I find a twice a year sprinkle with preen also is good for weed control as well. Anything to get out of trying to tweezer out weeds from spiky crowns! Sue

  3. Looks good ! I'm not a fan of landscape fabric but I can see the benefits here-for now anyway. My Agave 'Arizona Star' is offsetting like mad if you think there would be and interest.

    1. Yes, 'Arizona Star' would be a fantastic addition. I'd be happy to take some pups off your hands.

      My 'Arizona Star' must be the odd critter out: It hasn't produced a single offset, at least none that I've found.

  4. I was surprised about the use of landscape fabric but I can understand wanting to head off any resurgence on the part of the ivy. You've made a tremendous start and I'm impressed you tackled it in a single day. We had that same strange filtered light down this way last weekend (ours due to the Woolsey Fire).

    1. I'm not an expert on weed block fabric either. The last time I used it was 10 years under a layer of gravel around our raised vegetable beds. It's helped some but there are still plenty of weeds growing in straight gravel.


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