Friday, March 29, 2019

Visiting Victoria plant geek Nat Marcano at C&C Growers

I've known Victoria, BC plant geek Nat Marcano for many years. His blog, Stupid Garden Plants, is not only educational, but also wickedly entertaining. Nat has been too busy to post new content in a while (you know, work, life, etc.), but you can still catch up on all his previous posts. Fortunately, plant knowledge doesn't go out of date.

Yesterday I caught up with Nat at his place of work, C&C Growers in the Blenkinsop Valley, a tranquil and surprisingly rural area at the foot of Mt Douglas. As it turned out, it was only 7-minute drive from the Airbnb where we're staying! C&C is one of the largest wholesale growers of annuals and perennials on Vancouver Island, supplying retail outlets all over the island as well as on the lower mainland (including the great Vancouver area). The plants C&C produces may not be all that exciting to hard-core plant nerds, but they're the mainstay of many a garden: petunias, violas, begonias, sweet peas, bidens, fuchsias, lavender, and so on.

Nat has been with C&C for 12 years and has made his way up the ladder to a position where he is able to pursue his own projects in addition to his regular work. He is Mr Succulent, in charge of the hardy and non-hardy succulents C&C sells. He also propagates rarer succulents available only in small quantities (such as the seed-grown Aloe polyphylla you see below).

Nat is the kind of person you feel you've known forever

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Late March, Victoria, British Columbia: it's spring, I guess?

It's spring break for daughter #2 (last year of high school) so we're visiting daughter #1 in Victoria, British Columbia. This is one of the truly sublime spots on the west coast of North America, so it's not a hardship.

Late March is the middle of spring according to my internal clock. Not so in Victoria. While it's in Canada's banana belt (zone 8b), this winter brought far more snow than usual, and plants are slower to wake up and get going. In a "normal" year (whatever that means these days) I would have expected the rhododendrons to be in full bloom; this year they're just starting.

I'm pretty good at going with the flow, so I quickly let go of the mental images I'd come with and am simply enjoying what there is to see. Fortunately, I brought a hoodie that's warm enough to keep me comfy. But I still shiver every time I see a particularly hardy local in shorts and T-shirt when it's in the upper 40s (9 or 10°C).

This post is a collection of photos from the first three days of our visit. We made it to Butchart Gardens on Monday, and I'll have a separate post about that (this time it was less in-your-face-color, more backbone structure and texture).

Our first plant-related stop was at Finnerty Gardens on the campus of the University of Victoria. Check out this post from early April 2016; no such floral splendor this time, at least not yet. But there were enough early-blooming rhododendrons to make me happy.

Rhododendron 'Cindy Louise'

Friday, March 22, 2019

Taft Gardens in Ojai, California: from A(loe) to X(anthorrhoea)

Over time, some gardens achieve near mythic status. They're talked about in a hushed voice, like a secret only a select few are privy to. Sometimes there's a hint of uncertainty, as if the speaker isn't really sure that the garden even exists. This reputation seems to be directly related to how (in)accessible it is. Gardens that are virtually impossible to get into are the most likely to become the stuff of legends.

Out of all the gardens I've visited, the Taft Gardens fit into this category the best although they're not impossible to get into, as this post proves.

The Taft Gardens are located in a bucolic undeveloped part of Southern California, outside the town of Ojai southeast of Santa Barbara. The project was started in the late-1980s by developer John Taft and his wife Melody on their 265-acre property in the foothills of the Topatopa Mountains near Lake Casitas. Since the climate is very similar to what you find at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, the initial idea had been to grow South African proteas. This was soon expanded to include a wider range of plants from South Africa's Cape Province, especially aloes, as well as proteacea from Australia.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Rusted “metal” containers on the cheap

I greatly admire creative minds like Loree Bohl of The Danger Garden or Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray of Potted. It seems so effortless for them to come up with original ideas for garden containers. Loree has created dish planters out of birdfeeder tops and has upcycled metal odds and ends in a variety of ways, and Anette and Mary have written an entire book on the subject.

My ambitions are decidedly more pedestrian, but that doesn't take away from the excitement I feel when I complete a project, even a modest one.

Over the last few years we've been adding Corten steel containers to the front yard to introduce some much-needed vertical elements and gain planting height. I love the rich look of rust that weathering steel like Corten develops over time, but metal planters are pricy. I've finally found an alternative that has much of the same look with just a fraction of the price tag.

Here is an example I did last fall:


Ground-level view:


Friday, March 15, 2019

Visiting Jo O'Connell, plant maven from down under

As you may remember, I went on a quick road trip to Southern California right after Thanksgiving. One of the stops I was most looking forward to was Australian Native Plants nursery in Casitas Springs just outside of Ventura.

Few people in the U.S. know more about plants from down under than Australia-born horticulturist Jo O'Connell. She started the nursery in the early 1990s with her American husband Byron Cox and, through passion, dedication and perseverance, has developed it into a leading resource for plant material from the southern hemisphere. Much of the plants Jo and Byron offer are propagated by themselves, either from their own stock or from seeds imported from Australia. Literally, they are often the only source for a particular plant in the entire U.S. As you can see here, their plant list is truly impressive.

Jo O'Connell and Australian cattle dog Wallaby who guards the plants in the nursery

Jo O'Connell's personal story reads like a movie script—if Hollywood made movies about plant people, that is. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Weekend Wrapup (WeWu) for 3/10/19: rain, flowers, and foliage

As I'm typing this, the sky is much darker than it should be at 5:00 pm, and the rain has started to fall. I don't even bother looking at the forecast any more. Just like I'm sure people further north are sick of the snow, I'm sick of the rain. I'm careful saying it because it seems sacrilegious—not long ago we would have given anything for rain. There doesn't seem to be an in-between anymore, it's all one extreme or the other.

Maybe because of the long cool winter (or spring? not sure what season we're in!), the Grevillea 'Flora Mason' in the backyard has been flowering far longer than it usually does; this is month 4!

Grevillea 'Flora Mason'

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tucson's Pima Prickly Park: amazing what dedicated volunteers can accomplish

Tucson has no shortage of destinations for plant lovers. I've blogged about many of them before, including my personal faves: the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul Park, and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Although they're different in their own ways, they have one thing in common: they're run by organizations with a professional staff.

Then there's Pima Prickly Park: a public desert garden that has neither a professional staff nor much of a budget (if any).


Located on West River Road next to the offices of Pima County's Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Agency, the 7-acre property is owned by Pima County. What makes the site so special is that it was "adopted" by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society (TCSS) in 2010. Run by the TCSS under a 15-year operating agreement with Pima County, Pima Prickly Park was officially dedicated in September 2012. TCSS members have volunteered countless hours and donated countless plants to create a desert habitat park that highlights opuntias (prickly pears and chollas) and compatible desert plants. The park is not fenced so it's basically open anytime, although technically the hours are from sunrise to sunset. There is no fee for parking or admission.

I first visited Pima Prickly Park on New Year's Day 2015 when it was still very much a work in progress. My second visit was exactly four years later, New Year's Day 2019. I could hardly believe it was the same place. The 3000+ additional hours put in by TCSS volunteers between early 2015 and early 2019 have made an enormous difference. Anybody who has ever been involved in a club dependent on volunteer work can appreciate what a monumental achievement that level of participation is, even for a club as large and active as the TCSS.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bach's Cactus Nursery in Tucson on a chilly winter day

Since I'm housebound because of the rain and can't do any work in the garden, let's go on a virtual nursery visit. The experience may be vicarious, but at least we'll stay dry.

Last New Year's Eve, I visited Bach's Cactus Nursery, one of Tucson's best retail destinations for succulent lovers. It was a cold day, the sky heavy with menacing-looking clouds, and I didn't expect the nursery to be busy. It wasn't, but I wasn't the only customer either, which surprised and pleased me.

Bach's is located north of downtown, not exactly out in the country but not in a bustling part of town either. The turnoff onto the dirt road/driveway that leads into the nursery does look decidedly rural: