Tuesday, December 25, 2018

John Miller's Oakland aloe garden (Institute for Aloe Studies)

In July I blogged about the plants I'd mail-ordered from the Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS) in Oakland. I was blown away (and still am) by their huge selection of uncommon aloe species and their very reasonable prices.

Some of the IAS plants are grown in a greenhouse on the grounds of the Oakland Zoo, others at the private garden of IAS president John Miller. A few weekends ago, I finally had the opportunity to visit John's garden together with three other aloe enthusiasts, John B, Justin T and Brian P. The experience was mind-blowing and overwhelming—actually, it was very similar to way I often feel a really great museum.

As it turns out, John Miller has one of the largest collections of aloes in the country. My partners-in-crime were giving him a good-natured ribbing: Where are you now in the top 3? Number 2? Haven't made it to the top yet? Plant nerds like teasing each other.

Aloidendron dichotomum dressed up for Christmas

To find out more about the history of the IAS, read my previous post and the About Us page on their website.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (New World 2)

I hope the eye candy from the Huntington's Desert Garden that I've been showing you over the past couple of days has brightened the dark winter days. The first post was all about the Old World section with its aloes, euphorbias, and the like. The second post featured many of the amazing cactus and other succulents in the New World section. That's where this post (the third and final installment) continues.

The most iconic agave at the Huntington is Agave parryi var. truncata. In fact, the Huntington has its own eponymous clone, officially a named cultivar since 2012. In the second post you saw it growing amidst the jumble of golden barrel cactus; in the photo below, it frames a magnificent Agave mapisaga var. lisa:

Agave mapisaga var. lisa and Agave parryi var. truncata

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (New World 1)

My previous post had eye candy from the Old World section of the Huntington's Desert Garden. Click here to read it.

For some reason, I took even more photos in the New World section when I visited the week after Thanksgiving; it must have been the late afternoon light that made cactus spines glow like liquid gold. I'll share 90+ images with you over the next couple of days to make your holidays succulently spiny.

First, let's stop briefly at the Yucca rostrata sentinels in the entrance garden...

I read that this is a Yucca rostrata cultivar called 'Blue Velvet'

Friday, December 21, 2018

Huntington Desert Garden eye candy for the holidays (Old World)

My last post—a review of Ron Parker's book Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest—was 1,700+ words. Since everybody is so busy around the holidays, I want to spare you another lengthy post. Instead, here's some easy-to-digest succulent eye candy from the Desert Garden at the Huntington in San Marino. I took the photos at the end of November on day 1 of my post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California.

In fact, I took so many photos that I have enough for several "eye candy" posts. This one focuses on the Old World section, mostly plants from Africa. Enjoy!

Aloidendron barberae silhouette

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Chasing Centuries: top agave book of 2018

Considering how few books there are about agaves (I reviewed four in this post), any new volume about my favorite plant group is a reason for celebration. When it's a truly original book—one that goes where no other book has gone before—the celebration becomes a party. And when the book combines agaves with archaeology, a field that has stirred my imagination since I was in my teens, and Arizona, one of my favorite places in the world, the party becomes a partay where you might break out dance moves you haven't attempted since college even though your limbs might not be as limber as they once were.

Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest (Sunbelt Publications, January 2019) by Ron Parker had me doing a mental U Can't Touch This harem pants dance routine, as cringeworthy as that may sound.

A few years ago, Ron and Greg Starr took me on a hike in the Waterman Mountains northwest of Tucson to see Agave deserti var. simplex growing in habitat. Ron talked at length about his travels all over Arizona to document endemic agave populations, especially domesticated agaves—cultivated by pre-Columbian cultures for food and myriad other uses. I could tell this wasn't just a casual interest for Ron. It was a passion. Ron was driven, the way all explorers are, to go further, look harder, dig deeper. You might call it an obsession, but it's the good kind that fills you with a curiosity you simply can't let go. Chasing Centuries is the culmination of Ron's agave hunts. And it's glorious.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mid-December vignettes from our garden

In my previous post I started to take a look at what's going on in our garden right now; this is essentially a continuation. Seeing how it's mid-December, things are slowing down. But with daytime highs near 60, there's still plenty of growing going on.

This is the view of the larger succulent mound from the front porch, outside the dining room:


I  never get tired of it. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Meanwhile, at home, in our own garden...

After being gone for almost two weeks (first for Thanksgiving, then on my trip to Southern California), it seemed like I hadn't spent any time in the garden in quite a while.

We don't usually get much fall color, but the Chinese pistache in the backyard is putting on a good show this year:


I still wish we had actually gotten the male tree we'd ordered (female Chinese pistache are much messier and don't have as much color in the fall), but it's 20 years too late to complain.

2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California

Here are all the posts from my 2018 post-Thanksgiving road trip to Southern California (November 26 to December 1, 2018):

Detailed posts to follow about the Huntington Desert Garden, my visits with Andy Siekkinen (Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden) und Jeff Moore (Solana Succulents), my friend Deana's garden in Carpinteria/Santa Barbara, and much more.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 6

Day 6, the last day of my Southern California road trip, arrived all too quickly. I had spent the night in the Central California university town of San Luis Obispo, home of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). I've always had a soft spot for SLO and can actually see myself living there some day. Gardening in such a gentle climate has got to be dreamy!

My first stop was the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, a non-profit endeavor I'd discovered in April 2016. In my post about that visit, I mentioned their ambitious expansion plans for the future. Unfortunately, raising the funds for such a big project is a difficult and slow process, and I didn't see any visible progress on this visit.

Still, the 2½-acre preview garden is a nice medley of plants from the various Mediterranean climate regions around the world. Here are some examples:

Aloe ferox against California buckeye (Aesculus californica)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Southern California road trip, day 5

Day 5 began with breakfast at Esau's Café in Carpinteria ("World Famous since 1939"), just a couple of blocks from the beach. Joining me were my friend Deana and her husband Robert; Deana has lived in the Santa Barbara area for 30+ years and knows everything there is to know.

Imagine gardening in a virtually frost-free climate where 85°F is considered a hot day! The lack of water, however, is a worry that's never far from residents' minds. That's one reason why Deana is such a fan of succulents. Most of them thrive in the mild coastal climate. The only exception are cacti native to extremely hot desert environments; Santa Barbara simply doesn't get caliente enough for them.

After breakfast, I had the opportunity to check out the progress in Deana's garden. As you can see, the front yard is dominated by a massive Agave americana, one of the nicest forms I've seen:


Like all Agave americana, it does offset, but Deana is diligent about removing the pups. She wants a solitary specimen, not an impenetrable tangle.