Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Garden sparkles after unexpected rain

Our summers are long, warm/hot, and  dry—emphasis on the latter. We have a textbook Mediterranean climate so we typically don't get any rain between May and October. According to the UC Davis Weather & Climate site, the last time it had rained was on May 27 (a whopping 0.07").

Imagine my surprise and excitement when yesterday we not only woke up to cloudy skies but soon smelled petrichor—that incomparable scent of rain on dry asphalt and parched soil. No, it didn't last long or amounted to much (0.06"), but it was an unexpected gift and therefore precious.

I was thrilled for myself, but equally so for our plants. Beyond a much needed drink, they also needed a good washing off after months of dust. As the “rain” was letting up, I went outside and took pictures to document this unexpected boon.

×Mangave ‘Purple People Eater’

Friday, September 13, 2019

David Feix's tropical jungle in Berkeley

Berkeley is only 60 miles from Davis, but it might as well be a different planet. In the summer, people in Davis wear as little as they can get away with because it's 100°F outside; in Berkeley, they don wool sweaters and wrap scarves around their necks because it's a chilly 65°F. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. A mid-summer daytrip to San Francisco Bay is always a welcome escape, especially when plants are involved. Even better: an organized event that makes the trip legit.

In late July, I had the opportunity to visit several Berkeley-area gardens as part of the San Francisco Bromeliad Society's East Bay Garden Tour. The first stop was the garden of well-known landscape designer David Feix. David started his professional career as a landscape architect but soon switched to landscape design because his primary interest was creating plant-focused gardens instead of projects that prioritize the hardscape. A plant geek to the core, he has been a major influencer in the Bay Area landscape design and gardening community, introducing plants from all over the world in his gardens.

I've been following David for years on social media channels, but I'd never actually met him in person. That's why I was excited to finally see his own personal space. Knowing that David's garden designs center on bromeliads, succulents, subtropicals and Mediterranean-climate plants, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. However, I was still surprised by the sheet density of plants both in his front and back garden—and the almost shocking greenness. Yes, this is Berkeley with its Goldilocks climate (mild and frost-free winters, warm but not hot summers), but David's garden is extraordinarily lush even for Berkeley.

Front garden

The day of my visit was sunny, resulting in very contrasty conditions and making photography difficult. The fact that there were 40+ other people in the garden at the same time didn't make things easier. I'm hoping that I'll have a chance to visit again on an overcast day, and with fewer people around, but for now here are my photographic impressions of David's private sanctuary. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Going vertical: the next frontier

Space was the final frontier for the starship Enterprise. My aim is not quite as lofty, although my eyes are directed toward space. I'm beginning to moving up: quite literally up, off the ground. It's the only way to go since I'm running out of horizonal space on terra firma.

With four California bay trees in the backyard, there are plenty of places for hanging planters. Finding one I like was the hardest part. Macramé lovers have plenty to choose from (the 1970s are destined to haunt us forever), the rest of us not so much. I finally stumbled on something that spoke to me: rusty metal, a decent size, and reasonably affordable. Best of all: a large frame that doesn't interfere with the plants as much as the rope or wires of a traditional hanging planter would.

Here's the project in three photos: two planters attached to two different bay trees.


Big thanks to my wife for her creative thinking and her help installing these planters.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Plant-nerd technology that works: Huntington digital plant map

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently attended the 2019 Succulent Symposium at the Huntington in San Marino, CA. In contrast to my experience at similar events, every single presentation kept my attention, and I learned a great deal about plants with which I only had a passing familiarity or knew nothing about. 

I also found out a few things about the Huntington, including ambitious plans for the Chinese Garden and a new outdoor event area. But nothing surprised me more than finding out that the Huntington has been digitally mapping the plants in its collections and making the results available to, well, anybody and everybody. 

I suspect I might be the last one to hear about this, but in case I'm not, here's what I've gathered: As they walk the gardens, employees use portable devices (maybe simply their smartphone?) to send plant location data to the Huntington's online plant database. From http://plants.gardentour.net, you and I and the rest of the world has access to all the plants that have been captured so far. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, I didn't have this information when I walked through the Desert Garden the day before the Succulent Symposium, but I tried it out at home. Here's what the experience is like:

This is what you see when you get to http://plants.gardentour.net

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Huntington Desert Garden: Old World eye candy

In my previous post I treated you to some eye candy from the New World section of the Huntington's Desert Garden. I could follow it up with something completely unrelated but that wouldn't be couth. So I'm going to be completely predictable and continue with eye candy from the Old World.

I had intended to take more photos than I ultimately did, but as temperatures were climbing into the 90s and the 7+ hours on the road were beginning to catch up with me, I ended up bowing out in mid-afternoon to retreat to the air-conditioned coolness of my motel room. Sometimes creature comforts take precedence over plant-related pursuits.

Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Huntington Desert Garden: New World eye candy

I just got back from yet another whirlwind trip to the Huntington. On Saturday, I attended the 36th Succulent Symposium, an annual tradition since 1983. The day was packed with presentations on a wide variety of topics, including terrestrial bromeliads (Andy Siekkinen), cacti from the West Indies (Alberto Areces-Mallea) and Peru (Paul Hoxey), as well as the mutually beneficial cooperation between private collectors and botanical gardens (Ron Kaufmann). Karen Zimmerman, the Huntington's succulent propagator, gave us a virtual tour of the treasures in the off-limits collection greenhouses. In addition, there was a silent auction and, at the end of the day, the opportunity to shop in the Huntington's succulent nursery. And let's not forget breakfast and lunch—food not only keeps people's stomachs from growling, it also makes them more attentive and more generous.

If you're interested, the 2020 Succulent Symposium is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, September 5 (Labor Day weekend).


I gave myself an extra day because I wanted to spend some time at the Huntington and the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden nearby. Unfortunately, it was so hot in the afternoon that I retreated to my motel room earlier than I'd expected. I wish that in the summer months both the Huntington and the LA Arboretum let visitors in early—I would have loved walking around in the cool of the early morning. As it is, the Huntington doesn't open until 10:00, the LA Arboretum at 9:00.

Heat or not, the Desert Garden at the Huntington is a truly spectacular place. Even though words and images can't replace the immersive experience of a personal visit, I'm hoping that the magic of the Desert Garden has rubbed off a little on the photos in this post.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Prickly pictures from the U.S. Library of Congress

Last week, somewhere on the internet, I stumbled on a black-and-white photo of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo standing next to an enormous agave. The image was striking—beautifully composed and hauntingly expressive. Is Frida saying hello? Or goodbye? Is she sad? Or just pensive? The fact that there's a gigantic Agave salmiana in the frame makes the picture even more memorable, at least for me.

Toni Frissell: Frida Kahlo (Señora Diego Rivera) standing next to an agave plant, during a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, “Señoras of Mexico”, 1937
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Toni Frissell Collection, LC-F9-01-3707-25 -8

What caught my attention beyond the image itself was the credit line: “Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.” A quick Google search led me to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC), which contains about 1.2 million digitized images, many in the public domain. 

I ran two searches, for “agave” and for “cactus,” and found not only Frida Kahlo's agave images but also a bunch of others that caught my eye for one reason or another. Here's a sampling of what I discovered.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Rusty can as succulent planter: upcycling gone right—or wrong?

It's no secret I like the look of rusted metal in the garden. Weathering steel (Corten) planters, however, are not cheap. In the spring I converted a few old chimney flue liners into faux metal planters using oxidizing iron paint; the result surprised even me.

In my ongoing quest to find low- or no-cost metal accents, I've decided to try something I've avoided so far: use a rusty tin can:

Hechtia epygina

What do you think?

The first time I looked at the final product from a few feet away, I wasn't sure whether I liked it or not.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Sloping succulents and upcycled metal: personal garden of Bay Area landscape designer Mathew McGrath

I love visiting private gardens. They give me an opportunity to learn from what others have created—to be inspired or, conversely, find out what I don't like. If I ever get to create my own dream garden, it will build on everything I've seen over the years.

While I'm eager to discover new things and willing to look closer even at stuff that initially leaves me cold, I virtually never come home thinking, wow, there's nothing I would change in this garden. I'm sure most of us are that way, gravitating naturally towards a pick-and-choose approach. After all, every one of us is unique, so what are the odds we fully embrace what somebody else has done?

Imagine my surprise last Saturday when just that happened. It's all because of this guy:

Mathew McGrath, Farallon Gardens

This is landscape designer Mathew McGrath, the creative mind behind Farallon Gardens, according to their website “one of the leading design and maintenance firms now serving the greater Bay Area.”

Mat and I had been emailing back and forth for a good while, and I finally had the chance to visit him at home in the Berkeley Hills.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Piece of Eden: a plant paradise in Southern California

Everybody deserves their own slice of paradise, wherever and whatever it may be. That's why visiting a fellow gardener who has found theirs is such a treat for me.

A few weeks ago when I was in Southern California for my daughter's university orientation I had the pleasure of hanging out with Hoover Bo, the creative mind behind one my favorite gardening blogs, the aptly named Piece of Eden. Yes, Hoover Boo has created her own paradise, a peaceful sanctuary that seems to exist apart from the world outside.

I first visited Piece of Eden in December 2017 and wrote a two-part post about it (1 | 2). Needless to say the garden looks different in the summer—other plants are in bloom, for one thing. But even without a single flower, Piece of Eden would be dazzling because of the enormous variety of shapes and textures.

Hoover Boo gardens on a ½ acre in Southern California that combines level areas with slopes, both in the front and the back of the property. For someone like me who has always lived in level places any kind of elevation change is a wondrous thing. I'm sure the reality isn't quite as glamorous, but Hoover Boo and her husband, Beloved, have solved their terrain challenges brilliantly.

Starting out, here is the wider view of the immediate neighborhood. Hoover's front yard is on the left; the house you see is their next-door neighbor. And check out the hills in the distance: all of that is undeveloped land protected within the borders of a regional park. Sights like that are becoming rare in the most densely populated part of California.

The massive inflorescence of a flowering Agave marmorata is a beacon that is impossible to miss

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Visiting Mountain Crest Gardens succulent nursery in far northern California

We're so used to online ordering, we often forget that the stuff we buy comes from a real place where real people work. It's no different for plant enthusiasts who purchase from sellers all over the country, maybe even from other countries. That's why I get so excited when I have the opportunity to visit one of those “anonymous” businesses.

Mountain Crest Gardens (MCG) is a leading online succulent nursery. Billing itself as “The Ultimate Succulent Store,” they carry 700+ varieties of succulents. On the MCG website—one of the best designed, in my opinion—they're organized in two major groups: “soft” (tender) and “hardy.” The nursery also caters to wholesalers and landscapers with bulk offerings, both plugs and 2" pots.

The beginnings of MCG go back to 1995 (click here to learn more about its history). Initially, they sold pre-planted succulent dish gardens and wooden birdhouses with succulent roofs through big-box retailers and later through their own website. In 2005, they switched to their current format: growing and selling a large variety of named succulents directly to consumers through an easy-to-navigate and richly illustrated online store.

Mountain Crest Gardens is located in an unlikely place for a succulent nursery: the small town of Fort Jones (population 850) in far northern California, about 40 miles from the Oregon border. Fort Jones is in USDA hardiness zone 7b, i.e. its average annual extreme minimum temperature is between 5° and 10°F. According to BestPlaces.net, “there are 136.7 days annually when the nighttime low temperature falls below freezing.”

For me, the location is actually quite convenient. My mother-in-law lives in the Northern California town of Mount Shasta, only 50 miles from Fort Jones. She and I had been talking about visiting Mountain Crest Gardens for over a year, and it finally happened a couple of days ago.

The fastest route from Mount Shasta is just under an hour, taking Interstate 5 to Yreka and then Highway 3 for the remaining 20 minutes. However, my mother-in-law and I decided to take the more leisurely and more scenic route over hill and dale. This part of California is sparsely populated. We only passed through two very small towns; most of the drive looked like this:


Friday, August 9, 2019

Succulent wonderland at Newport Beach Civic Center

Completed in 2013, the Civic Center in the Southern California coastal city of Newport Beach has become a word-of-mouth destination for succulent enthusiasts. It's easy to see why:

Newport Beach Civic Center along Avocado Avenue

The complex, which houses Newport Beach city hall and the central library, is architecturally stunning. It's adjoined by 14 acres of parks and gardens transected by 1.25 miles of walking trails. The $140 million price tag is hefty, but no corners were cut—and that applies to the outside areas as well. That in itself is very gratifying since landscaping, which is usually the last major element to be installed in a project, often gets the short end of the stick, especially when there are budget overruns.

The landscape design was created by Berkeley-based PWP Landscape Architecture whose projects are found all over the world, including Jewel Changi Airport in Shanghai, the National September 11 Memorial in New York, and the Marina Bay Sands Resort in Singapore. With their extensive experience and a generous $15 million budget, PWP created the kind of high-impact public landscaping that gets even indifferent and incurious passers-by to take a second look.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Another must-see SoCal nursery: Plant Depot in San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is famous for two things: its Spanish mission founded in 1776, and the cliff swallows that arrive from Argentina every year on St Joseph's Day (March 19) and leave on the day of St John of Capistrano (October 23).

For plant lovers, I'm going to add something else: Plant Depot.

Plant Depot is a large family-owned garden center conveniently located right off Interstate 5. They seem to carry everything from aloes to zinnias, along with pottery, decor and gift items, tools and all kinds of accessories. Most importantly, I'm happy to report that they have a larger selection of succulents than any other general retail nursery I've been to in Southern California. Continue reading to see photographic proof.

Yucca 'Bright Star' and Lotus berlothii planted in bowls on top of the pillars that are part of the streetside fence 

Ironically, I hadn't heard of Plant Depot until last Friday when I visited Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden and she asked me if I'd ever been there. Through sheer luck, I had a couple of hours of me time (my family was doing other things), so I made a beeline for San Juan Capistrano. Traffic was still light, so I got there in 30 minutes.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Checking out OC Succulents, Irvine, CA

We're in Southern California for daughter #2's freshman orientation at University of California Irvine. When traveling with family, plant-related interests aren't at the top of my agenda, but I still try to squeeze in what I can.

Fortunately, the family sleeps late and many nurseries open early. Case in point: OC Succulents (OC stands for Orange County). It has three locations, one each in Orange County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. Primarily a wholesale nursery, it's open to the public as well. As you can see below, it's not a fancy “destination” with elegant displays and a nice cafe, but rather the kind of place where landscapers go with their trucks to buy big plants for landscaping jobs.


While the plants on tables are fairly organized, the larger ones on the ground are in no discernible order. Not that it bothers me—quite the contrary, it gives me an opportunity to explore, just in case something weird and unusual is hiding in plain sight.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Random snapshots from our garden, late July 2019

This post is a series of random photos taken in our garden at different times over the past few weeks. There's no real theme other than plants: some in flower, but all of them pretty even without.

This is what you see as you walk from the front door (behind us) to the driveway (over on the right):


I prefer to call it my “collection” of plants, but I won't blame you if you think it's hoarding about to veer off the rails. Just remember: My mantra is “if more is good, then more more is even more good.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Some projects to liven up the dog days of summer

With the exception of a few days above 100°F, we've had an unexpectedly pleasant summer. That has allowed me to get more done than I otherwise would have. No big projects—they'll have to wait until fall—but a few little ones with surprisingly big impact.

Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes, and that definitely applies to empty planters. The Corten container in the photo below had been sitting there for weeks, taking the place of a bloomed-out Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer':


While the gaping maw of the Styrofoam-lined interior wasn't the most attractive sight, I wasn't in a big hurry either because I simply didn't know what to put there. Well, actually I did know: I wanted to put an Agave 'Mr Ripple' in there (I have a nice blue clone from Ron Parker). However, since the container is only 2 ft. from the public sidewalk, there was no way I could plant a massive agave so close to where people pass by. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Jackson Broussard: a landscape designer's personal garden

I imagine the work of a landscape designer is a constant give and take in order to find a balance between their own ideas and their clients' wishes. At best, the two parties strike a happy medium—and at worst, they end up making concessions that leave everybody dissatisfied.

That's the reason why I love seeing what garden designers do at home where they're not bound by compromise and can give their creativity free reign.

I had such an opportunity right after the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin when Pam Penick, garden writer extraordinaire and one of the Fling organizers, took a handful of us diehards on a tour of even more gardens. The first one we visited belongs to landscape designer Jackson Broussard.

Hard to believe but these are Bradford pears

It was clear right off the bat that this is no ordinary garden. The walkway to the front door is lined with Bradford pears, shaped perfectly and giving a welcome sense of coolness in the Austin heat.

I couldn't believe these are the same trees I hate so much in Davis where, as city trees, they're neglected, misshapen, and infested with fire blight and mistletoe. I asked Jackson twice: Yes, they are Bradford pears. (Jackson created a ingenious Bradford pear arbor in another garden we visited as part of the Fling.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Mid-summer plant evaluations for University of California Landscape Plant Irrigation Trials

A year ago I blogged about the irrigation trials at UC Davis. As I said at the time, the objective is to determine how ornamental plants fare when they receive different amounts of water and are irrigated increasingly less frequently. The ultimate goal is to find the sweet spot where a plant still looks good with as little irrigation as possible.

On the UC Landscape Plant Irrigation Trial website, the project is described like this:
UC Davis horticulturists are evaluating landscape plants with the potential to be good performers in low-water use gardens. [...] the plants are exciting new cultivars provided by growers and breeders who want to evaluate their new plant varieties for low-water use in hot California gardens. The results of these trials are providing growers and retailers the information they need to successfully distribute and market these plants to the public.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Tanglewild Gardens: Morocco meets Thailand in Texas (#gbfling2018)

I like fusion. Fusion cooking, fusion music, and yes, fusion gardening. Why limit yourself when you have the entire world to choose from? Pick what you like, and don't worry about what others call “rules.”

We saw a particularly nice example of fusion gardening in Austin, Texas last year. Blending Moroccan and Thai influences with an extensive collection of daylilies, 1.7 acre Tanglewild Gardens proves that you can have your cake and eat it, too.

The original house was a split level built in 1971. The current owners Jeff and Skottie tore it down to the studs and foundation in 2011 and created exactly the kind of space they wanted. We didn't get to see the inside of the house last year but here are a few representative photos.

Front of the house

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Rancho Diablo: a hilltop desert paradise just 15 miles from San Francisco

The California Horticultural Society (Cal Hort) recently organized a visit to one of the most spectacular private gardens in the East Bay I've ever seen: a 5-acre hilltop property with a cactus and succulent garden that would look right at home in Phoenix or Tucson.

As always, a picture is worth a thousand words:


I'd visited once before, in 2014, on a Garden Conservancy Open Day, and I was happy to see that the gardens are as stunning as before—even more so possibly, seeing how the plants are five years older now.

For geographical context, look at the next photo. This is what the approach to the property looks like:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

CSSA Show & Sale at the Huntington—and my plant haul

The reason I went to the Huntington a couple of weeks ago was to attend the 2019 Show and Sale of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA)—the 54th, it turned out! The judged show is open to members of the CSSA or one of its affiliated clubs. As one of the most prestigious cactus and succulent exhibitions in the country, it draws top-tier growers and collectors, resulting in an amazing assemblage of plants.

The show and the accompanying plant sale were held at the Huntington's Brady Botanical Center. Succulents were in one building, cacti in the other. The trophy table with the top winners in each category was in the same room as the cacti; it had better natural light so it was easier to get good photos.

I photographed the plants that caught my attention for one reason or another—sometimes because of their beauty, sometimes because of their weirdness. Some plants are simply so strange that you don't know what to think. Above all, I want my photos to show the huge range of succulents, including caudiciforms (“fat plants”), which store water in their swollen roots or trunks.

Tacitus bellus by Nels Christiansen. This Graptopetalum-relative has huge flowers compared to the size of the body.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Huntington Desert Garden keeps me coming back

My previous post from the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Southern California bypassed the world-famous Desert Garden. In contrast, this post is about nothing else.

I've talked about the history of the Desert Garden in an earlier post, but here's a recap:

Established by businessman Henry Huntington in the early 1900s on what was originally a 600-acre ranch, the Huntington comprises a world-class library, art collections and 120 acres of gardens. Arguably the most famous is the 10-acre Desert Garden. It was started in 1907 when garden superintendent William Hertrich convinced Henry Huntington to plant cacti in an area where little else would grow. Huntington initially agreed to let Hertrich experiment on ½ acre. Hertrich went ahead at full steam, filling the ½ acre lot with 300 cactus. In 1908, Hertrich hauled three carloads of saguaros from Arizona, followed in 1912 by two carloads of cacti and other succulents from Mexico. Huntington was finally convinced and gave Hertrich another 4½ acres. In 1925, the Desert Garden grow by another five acres, and in 1981, long after Hertrich’s death, the final 5 acres were added. In 1985, the Desert Garden Conservatory opened to the public; it’s home to 3,000 succulents that either need some sort of protection or are simply too rare to leave outside.

Isn't this a breathtaking sight?

Today, the Desert Garden has sixty planting beds filled with more than 2,000 species of succulents and desert plants from both the Old and the New World. While impressive-sounding, these stats are fairly meaningless until you see the garden’s splendor in person. We’re not just talking a lot of plants, we’re talking old plants, masses of them. It’s easy to see why the Desert Garden is considered one of the world’s premier collection of succulents.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Huntington Botanical Gardens: much more than succulents

Last weekend was the 2019 Show & Sale of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA), the national umbrella organization of local clubs like the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). As is tradition, it was held at the Huntington in San Marino, California, and members of local C&S societies received free admission. Considering that it's $25 per adult to get into the Huntington, that's a tangible benefit, especially if you're there for several days.

This year, the stars were aligned just right. Not only was I able to go, my wife agreed to come along. As a result, I had reason to look at more than “just” the gardens. Plant nerds sometimes forget that the Huntington has significant art collections and a library housing a wide variety of rare books. (Among other things, we saw a Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum, one of only 12 known to exist.)

Ultimately, though, I was drawn to the gardens more than anything else. I showed my wife the Desert Garden—my favorite spot at the Huntington—and then we walked through the Jungle Garden where it was wonderfully cool.

But you don't have be in one of the themed gardens (of which there are 16 spread across 120 acres) to see cool plants. The general landscaping is beautiful, even in the parking lots—definitely no boring shrubbery from big-box garden centers! Plant labeling is incomplete but decent enough, all things considered. Areas that serve a more educational purpose have better labeling; this includes the entrance garden and, surprisingly, the parking areas.

Aeoniums and Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue'. Even more impressive in a mass planting!

Usually, I start off with a succulent-themed post. This time, I'm mixing things up and do a non-succulent post first. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Public sidewalk obstructers beware!

Last week we found this dreaded door hanger on our front door:



Has somebody complained to the powers that be? Are there people in our neighborhood who harbor ill will against us? And if so, why? I guess we'll never know.

Here are some snapshots of the crime scene:


Oh what thugs we are for letting our unruly vegetation intrude into the sacrosanct space of the city sidewalk!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Kirk Walden's garden: It's all about the view (#gbfling2018)

More from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, which took place in Austin, Texas from May 4-6, 2018. 

Kirk Walden's garden in Austin, Texas is all about the view.

The end.

Just kidding. 

A little at least. Because even if that was the entirety of this post, it would do a pretty decent job of capturing the essence of this garden. The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words definitely applies here.

View of Lake Austin from Kirk Walden's garden

The view does take center stage, as it should in a setting like this. But there's more to Kirk Walden's garden. There's limestone, a building material as local as it gets in the Texas Hill Country. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bromeliad haul from Sacramento Bromeliad Society sale

A couple of weekends ago I went to the 2019 Show and Sale of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society. I hinted at the haul that came home with me, and here it is:

Haul from the 2019 Show and Sale of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society

That's a lot more than I had hoped (let only intended) to buy, but the selection was good and the prices were even better. “Resistance is futile,” as the Borg so memorably stated, so I didn't even try.

Below are portrait shots of all the plants from that sale as well as some other recent bromeliad additions and even one bloomer. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ruthie Burrus garden: Texas Hill Country hideaway with spectacular views (#gbfling2018)

More from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, which took place in Austin, Texas from May 4-6, 2018. 

Last week I wrote about the garden of Austin, Texas designer B. Jane. It combines a low-water and low-maintenance front yard with a contemporary resort-style backyard in a compact package. To quote Loree “danger garden” Bohl, it's small but lives large.

Ruthie Burrus's garden is in some ways the opposite. As you'll see, it lives large because it is large: The hilltop property is two acres and overlooks downtown Austin. As you can imagine—and will see in a bit—the views are insane.

The residence is at the top of the hill, connected to the street by a long and steep driveway. A golf cart comes in handy in a place like this!


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A bounty of bonny bromeliads in Sacramento show

This past weekend I went to the 2019 Show and Sale of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society. Unlike last year, when I'd been a bromeliad newbie, I approached this year's event with more knowledge and a better sense of what to expect and what to look for. The sale plants were once again priced very reasonably so I ended up buying more than I would have in a retail nursery. That makes not just me happy but also the club.

While the sale was at the top of my agenda—business is business—I did take the time to look at every plant on display inside the Shepard Garden and Arts Center (also the home of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society and most other plant clubs in town).

Since the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society Show is not judged, there was no winner's table. Instead, the club had put together a spectacular display of bromeliads and carnivorous plants:


Monday, June 17, 2019

Railroad spikes to corral wayward garden hose

For years I've been struggling with the garden hose as I hand-water plants in the front yard. Even though I have rocks placed in strategic corners that are supposed to keep the hose from strangling and mangling plants, it doesn't always work, especially if the rock surface is a bit slick.


Last week I happened to be on Etsy and through sheer chance I came across a listing for old railroad spikes. BINGO! This could be the solution for my hose troubles.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

B. Jane Garden: small but sophisticated backyard resort (#gbfling2018)

More from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, which took place in Austin, Texas from May 4-6, 2018. 

Garden bloggers from North America and Europe are gathering in Denver, CO right now for the 2019 Garden Bloggers Fling. Because of my daughter's high school graduation, I'm not able to join them, but I'm there in spirit. To celebrate the 2019 Fling, I'm making a concerted effort to write about the gardens we saw last year in Austin. There are still some incredible places to come!

Today: B. Jane Garden, located in the Brentwood neighborhood in Central Austin. This area was a cotton farm until the 1940s when it was annexed by the City of Austin. This area is dominated by two- and three-bedroom bungalows, many of which were originally bought by GIs starting families after WWII.

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What do they say about mullets? Business in the front, party in the back? That comparison popped into my head as I was going through my photos of this garden. You'll see why in a moment.

B. Jane is an Austin landscape designer whose company, B. Jane Gardens, offers full-service design and build services. The garden we visited is B. Jane's own Brentwood oasis.

The house looks like it started out as one of those modest 1950s bungalows I mentioned earlier. I have no doubt that originally there was a front lawn as well as unassuming foundation shrubs in front of the house. The lawn is long gone, replaced by a climate-appropriate planting scheme that's as attractive as it's water-wise and low-maintenance (“I love plants but I’m not a constant gardener,” B. Jane admits).

Muhly grass and opuntias in front of B. Jane's home

Monday, June 10, 2019

Visiting the garden of Austin, TX writer and blogger Pam Penick (#gbfling2018)

More from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, which took place in Austin, Texas from May 4-6, 2018. 

Garden bloggers from North America and Europe are getting ready for the 2019 Garden Bloggers Fling in Denver, CO next week. Because of my daughter's high school graduation I won't be able to join them, but I'll be there in spirit.

Thinking of the 2019 Fling made me realize that there are still several gardens from the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, TX that I haven't covered yet. No better time to start catching up than now—and no better garden to showcase than the private sanctuary of Pam Penick, one of the original founders of the Garden Bloggers Fling and co-organizer of the 10th anniversary event in Austin.

Pam Penick's award-winning blog is called Digging: cool gardens in a hot climate. She not only chronicles the evolution of her own garden in Austin, TX but also writes about other gardens—public and private— in Austin, Texas, and beyond: The Regional Garden Tours drop-down menu on Digging has listings for 24 U.S. states and eight foreign countries!

In addition, Pam has written numerous articles for magazines such as Country Gardens, Garden Design, and Wildflower as well as two bestselling books published by Ten Speed Press: Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard and The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water.

North Carolina blogger Daricia McKnight in front of a perfect specimen of Agave ovatifolia

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Air Plant Alchemy: behind the scenes at a tillandsia nursery

More from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, which took place from April 4-7, 2019. 

The final destination we visited at the 2019 Bromeliad Summit was Air Plant Alchemy. They're a major grower and wholesaler of tillandsias and orchids and now have a showroom/retail outlet at their location outside of Carpinteria. We had a chance to shop (the first and only opportunity at the Summit) and got to take a look inside a production greenhouse. I should have stuck with the group as I might have learned a few things about growing tillandsias, but as usually I drifted off to take photos. When will I learn?

The showroom/retail outlet occupies half a greenhouse and features some impressive specimens of tillandsias and other bromeliads:



Quite a few tillandsias were flowering:

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wacky Wednesday featuring nine red cactus flowers

Our Echinopsis ‘Johnson Hybrid’ just had a nonuplet of flowers. I was hoping they'd open two or three at a time so the entire show would last a little longer, but no, all nine opened on the same day. By the afternoon on the second day, the flowers were all done. So much concentrated beauty in such a short span of time!


Monday, June 3, 2019

10-acre Montecito estate garden near Lotusland

More from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, which took place from April 4-7, 2019. 

On the final day of the Bromeliad Summit, we visited an estate garden in Montecito not far from Lotusland. I'm sure everybody has a slightly different idea of what an “estate” is, but in my book, 10 acres in one of the priciest zip codes in the country certainly qualifies.

10 acres is 435,600 square feet. That's 53 times the size of our lot (8,145 sq.ft.). In fact, the house on this estate is larger than our entire lot. According to public records, the house (actually, “home” would probably be a more appropriate word) is 11,160 sq.ft., compared to 8,145 sq.ft. for our lot.

What I'm trying to say: I was in a completely different world. I knew it when about halfway down the seemingly endless driveway we passed a structure which at first glance appeared to be a house. Looking closer, I realized it was a massive garage—with eight garage doors, so room for at least that many cars. And when we got to the actual residence, I saw that it had its own three-car garage. This is one car-loving family!

We were met in the entrance courtyard by landscape architect Derrik Eichelberger of Arcadia Studio, the principal designer of the garden. He wasn't at liberty to say who the owners are, but he did indicate that they live here only part-time, a few months out of the year. (Whatever reaction you just had, I had the same.)

Derrik took us on a walking tour of the sprawling grounds (ten acres is ten acres) and talked about the distinctly different gardens. I could have learned a lot from Derrik if I had listened carefully, but there were so many things to distract me that both my mind and my body began to drift.

As a result, I can't tell you much about the gardens or the estate in general. Instead, I'll invite you to look at the 70+ photos in this post and simply enjoy the visuals.

Courtyard (through archway)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Visiting Mr. Hechtia, Andy Siekkinen

In my recent rain in May post I showed you a number of hechtias in my garden. That, in turn, reminded me that I still hadn't written about my visit with Mr. Hechtia, Andy Siekkinen, at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden last December—an oversight I'm remedying herewith.

Andy is currently doing PhD research at Claremont Graduate University's Department of Botany, which is housed at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Andy's scientific focus is on the genus Hechtia; using next-generation DNA sequencing, he's examining the relationships between the various Hechtia species in order to reorganize the taxonomy of the genus from the ground up. His recent Master's thesis, Systematics of Hechtia (Hechtioideae): Insights in phylogenetics and plastome evolution in a non-model organism with Next Generation Sequencing, was the first major step in that direction.

While I have a rudimentary understanding of phylogenetics (the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms) and taxonomy (the science of classification), the finer points go right above my head. And that's OK with me. I'm no scientist, and my interest is fairly mundane: I simply want to know how plants are related. I like things to be structured and organized—a real challenge considering nature often prefers chaos and confusion over order. That's why I'm glad that there are bright minds like Andy who dig deep into the specifics and allow me to benefit from their research.

Andy Siekkinen in front of some of his bromeliads

Andy had told me that he's able to use greenhouse space at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden although the bulk of his collection is at his house in San Diego. In light of that, I expected to see a few dozen plants at most. Was I in for a surprise!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Bromeliads for the backyard

In my previous post I talked about redoing the bed you see on the right in the photo below:


But why stop there? Let's swing around to the left:


While I didn't do any major renovation here (that was done last year), I've been adding more bromeliads. This includes plants I brought home from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara and from Hortlandia.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Out with the old, in with the new: small succulent bed makeover in backyard

Last week's unplanned makeover of a section of the streetside bed, the result of our 'Sonoran Emerald' palo verde falling flat on its face, proved contagious. Out with the old, in with the new—sometimes there's nothing better to break through the inertia.

Case in point: this small planting strip along the side of the house (the kitchen is behind the wall). It's separated by a concrete walkway from the much larger planting bed against the streetside fence. On the other side of the fence is the streetside bed where the palo verde toppled over, just to give you a sense of place.

Since the bed is only 2½ feet deep, we're limited in what we can plant there. After a long cycle of trial and error (mostly the latter), I decided to stick aloes and agaves in there. I can't even remember when that was—it might have been as long as ten years ago. Likewise, I can't tell you where the yellow columbine on the left came from; probably a volunteer. The nasturtiums were here when we bought the house 22 years ago; I'm sure they'll outlive us, too.

From left to right: Agave 'Red Margin, Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor', Aloe cameronii × maculata, Agave parry var. truncata, Aloe striata, Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', Aloe glauca

There wasn't anything terribly wrong with this bed, but I was tired of the same-o, same-o. Time to switch things up!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Palo verde removal and replanting: no lollygagging here!

This is the continuation of Monday's post

Sunday morning, 7:00 am. The dog has been fed, coffee is brewing, the house is quiet because the dog and I are the only ones up. Waiting for the coffee, I look out the dining room slider. Something isn't quite right, but it takes me a few moments to realize what it is. The tree aloe, which was getting close to touching the palo verde branch above it, is standing proud and tall, silhouetted against the morning sky. Unobstructed. Wait, where's the palo verde it was about to bump up against? No palo verde in sight.

Dread is mounting as I rush outside. This is what I see:


For a heart-stopping second I'm not sure if anything is trapped under the fallen tree. Fortunately, not.

But the tree does block more than half of the street. That's a problem, even on a quiet weekend on this quiet cul-de-sac in our quiet neighborhood.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Miracle rain continuing, with unforeseen consequences

The unusual, unexpected and unabashedly wonderful series of rain storms that started earlier in the week continued throughout the weekend. This post expands on my previous one with more photos of besotted plants luxuriating in the serendipitous gift from above. But it wasn't all love, peace and happiness; there was high drama as well, as you will see.

No need to rush, though. Let's enjoy the quiet beauty of branches heavy with rain drops while it lasts:

Grevillea 'Flora Mason' in backyard

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rain in May makes plants go yeah

May is typically the beginning of our annual 5- or 6-month dry stretch. By mid-May, the rainfall odds have gone done significantly. If it does rain, it's generally nothing more than a token amount. That's why the past two days have been so unusual. Not only has it been raining for an extended period, albeit on and off, but we've had over an inch since yesterday morning. That's a new historic record for May 15. (You know it's special when the weather oracles on TV talk about a "rain event.")

I'm looking at this as an unexpected gift—one last hurrah before we need to get serious about watering. Beyond that, the garden simply looks great after all the dust has been washed off. Plants are squeaky clean, and colors pop, especially reds and greens.

Here are some random photos from this morning. I'm sure I'll look at them repeatedly over the course of the summer when it's hot outside and the colors have dulled from an ever thickening layer of dirt.

Hechtia 'Wildfire', an Andy Siekkinen hybrid between Hechtia texensis and Hechtia stenopetala. The color really is that insane!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Spring in South Africa, courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

In my previous post I showed you a selection of seasonal standouts in the Australian Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum—plants that looked particularly good when I was there on April 13, 2019.

This post essentially does the same for the South African Garden. While most conebushes (genus Leucadendron) and sugarbushes (genus Protea) were a few months past their prime, many pincushions (genus Leucospermum) were in full flower.

It's easy to fall in love with pincushions, but unless you have the right environment, they're not easy to grow—at least in my experience (current kill count: 4). I think Davis is just a tad too hot in the summer for their liking. In contrast, leucadendrons have an easier time here.

Fortunately, I can always drive to Santa Cruz to get my Leucospermum fill. It's a little over two hours by car if the traffic gods are in a good mood—so a quick one-day outing is doable. A weekend getaway would be even better, of course, except I never manage to plan that far ahead.

But enough yakking already. Time to let the plants shine!

Leucospermum gueinzii

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spring in Australia, courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum isn't close—just over two hours if there's no traffic—so I don't get to go very often. At least their twice-a-year plant sales are a good incentive: Not only did I make it to the fall sale last October (click here), I also managed to hit the spring sale on April 13.

The UCSCA plant sales are crazy, with hordes of plant-hungry people who know exactly what they want and aren't afraid of making a run for it, so I don't take photos while shopping. But once I'm done and my haul is safely stashed in the car, I allow myself the luxury of relaxing and taking a leisurely stroll with my camera.

Last month I began my walkabout in the Australian Garden (this post) and then checked out what was in bloom in the South African Garden (next post). I'm keeping my commentary to a minimum and let the photos speak for themselves.

If you want to read more about UCSCA and its history, head over to their website. After you're done with this post, of course!

Friends of the Arboretum info booth on the left; the sale area is behind the big shrub on the left

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The softer side of the danger garden

I was in Portland, Oregon a few weekends ago for Hortlandia, the massive spring plant sale event organized by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. Once again I had the privilege of staying with my friends Loree and Andrew so I had free rein of the danger garden. In reality, there wasn't that much time because we were busy with Hortlandia and miscellaneous nursery visits, but I did sneak in some exploring.

While the danger garden is primarily known for Loree's love of spiky plants—and the occasional stab or puncture wound ensuing from a close encounter—there's a lot more to experience. Loree is a master at layering contrasting textures: Whenever you see a hard edge, you can be sure that a soft element is nearby to act as a counterbalance.

In this post, I'm focusing on the softer side of the danger garden rather than zeroing in on Loree's agaves and their playmates. Of course I'll throw in the occasional agave photo, but I'll also show plants you might not have expected. How about tulips growing side by side with agaves?

Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty' contrasting beautifully with the yellow flowers of Euphorbia rigida

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Hortlandia in Portland: passionate plantaholics and crazy crowds

This spring I finally had the opportunity to experience an event my Pacific Northwest gardening friends have been raving about forever: Hortlandia, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's (HPSO) annual spring plant sale.

This is how the HPSO describes Hortlandia on their web site:
In April of every year, HPSO sponsors an event that is one of the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Vendors from far and wide – from nearly the Canadian border to the California border – come to Portland to offer the latest plant introductions as well as the time-tested (and hardiness-tested!) plants. Complementing the plant vendors are specialty garden art vendors bringing one-of-a-kind pieces made from metal, wood, glass, ceramic, fabric, and stone
You get the idea: Hortlandia isn't "just" another plant sale, it's the Coachella of plant sales! It's such a massive event that it's held at the Portland EXPO Center. You do need plenty of space when you have 50+ plant vendors and 30+ garden art vendors—not to mention 6,000+ visitors!

These stats blew my mind. There's nothing like that in California, certainly not in Northern California. Unlike the usual home and garden shows, which seem to be about anything but plants, Hortlandia is all about plants—plants you can buy and take home!

Cistus booth

Monday, April 29, 2019

St Francis Ranch: a private succulent wonderland on a grand scale

More from the 2019 Bromeliad Summit in Santa Barbara, which took place from April 4-7, 2019. 

In my previous post I showed you the spectacular venue of the Friday evening reception: organizer Jeff Chemnick's home and nursery, Aloes in Wonderland. When I told Jeff how amazing his place was, he said, "it's nothing compared to where we'll be tomorrow evening."

So here we are: St Francis Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara proper. It's the kind of country property you're likely to see in a high-end real-estate magazine like LAND (for some reason, my dentist has a subscription so I get to page through it a couple of times a year in the waiting room).

Entrance to St Francis Ranch (photo by Loree Bohl)

If you look at the three figures on top of the gate in the photo above, you'll have a good idea of which animals are raised at St Francis Ranch. The cattle are Ankoli-Watusi, whose prominent feature are almost comically long horns—to my regret I didn't take a photo. And the second kind of animal was this: