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.