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