Sunday, October 27, 2019

Marilyn and Peder's David Feix-designed garden on the San Francisco Peninsula

I joined the Bromeliad Society of San Francisco (BSSF) this summer, and the first garden I visited with them was that of Bay Area landscape designer David Feix. He's a big fan of bromeliads, succulents and tropical-looking plants, and his Berkeley garden reflects that.

As luck would have it, my second outing with the BSSF had a David Feix connection as well. The San Francisco Peninsula garden of BSSF members Marilyn and Peder was designed by David, and he's still very much involved in its maintenance.

According to David, the property is about ¾ acre (~30,000 square feet). The garden was started in 2015 immediately after Marilyn and Peder bought their new home. The only things remaining from the previous garden are the pool and the pool house as well as a few mature windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and giant birds of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai).

Originally, the garden was surrounded on two sides by a 30-foot Leyland cypress hedge. Not only did the cypresses make the space feel confined, they were also a major fire hazard, being so close to the house. The conifers were removed two years after Marilyn and Peder bought the property, and the resulting gaps were filled in with new shrubs and perennials.

Marilyn has been a member of both the Bromeliad Society of San Francisco and the San Francisco Succulent and Cactus Society for many years. She had a massive collection in their previous place, and many of the hardier plants made the move. In fact, the greenhouse, which you will see later, was the first project to be completed on the new property.

Front garden

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

2019 ×Mangave roundup

In a March 2018 post, I proclaimed 2018 to be the “Year of the Mangave.” Sure, it was a rather self-important thing to do, but it did reflect the rapidly growing popularity of the love child between two closely related succulent genera: Agave and Manfreda.

My original post gives a comprehensive overview of the nothogenus ×Mangave. I won't repeat all the details here, but in a nutshell, mangaves have evolved from naturally occurring hybrids (such as 'Macho Mocha' and 'Rio Verde') to man-made novelties (the ever popular 'Bloodspot') to commercially viable ornamentals (the successful “Mad About Mangave” introductions by Walters Gardens).

×Mangave 'Mayan Queen' in our front yard

This evolution—“revolution” might actually be a better word—was largely driven by the pioneering hybridization work of Hans Hansen, Director of New Plant Development at Walters Gardens. If it hadn't been for Hans's neverending curiosity, innovativeness and perseverance, we might never have moved beyond 'Bloodspot'. Thank you, Hans, for propelling us into a new age of ornamental abundance! (Hans, I might add, is not just Mr. Mangave; he has filed dozens of plant patents in genera as diverse as Anemone, Baptisia, Buddleia, Hosta, Kniphofia, Phlox, Sedum, and many more.)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Tropicalesque splendor on the mountain

Even though I'm an inveterate researcher, much of that happens after the fact. When I visit a garden for the first time, I prefer to know as little as possible in advance. In that sense, gardens are like movies I haven't seen yet: The plot basics outlined in the broadest of strokes is all I want—just enough of a hook to reel me in.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of visiting a mature private garden in the Russian River Valley. The arrangements were made by a friend of mine; I merely tagged along in blissful ignorance. All I knew was that the garden was several decades old, and its owner, Diana, was a retired garden designer.

As it turns out, Diana wasn't “just” a garden designer but also a photographer and a keen observer of nature, perfectly in tune with life in her corner of the world. She graciously led us through her hillside garden, which looked much bigger than its actual size of 1/3 acre, and she talked about all the changes the area has seen in the 40 years she's lived there. I had the luxury of listening to Diana's conversation with my two travel partners while letting myself drift away from them just enough to experience the garden on my own. That's a pleasure I don't always have, but I had it that day.

Diana was only too happy to answer all our questions—about the area, about the plants, about the ornaments and pieces of art—and I could include much of that information here. But I've decided not to in favor of simply letting the photos speak for themselves.

Look at this post as a coffee-table book with very little text—just some basic captions. You'll be able to enjoy what Diana has created without having to know the how's and why's.

If you could create a garden inside a tree house, the result may very much be like Diana's garden

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Coming soon: sneak peek at what's cooking

Lately it seems I've been working on a number of different projects at the same time without getting much of anything done. In reality, though, it simply takes longer to reach the finish line when you're multitasking. To make myself feel better, here's a quick peek at what I've been up to.

Ongoing work in the backyard:

The backyard has been a construction site for years now. It does present a lot more challenges than the front yard, mostly because there is so much shade. But not just any shade—dry shade. I've read scores of books and articles on dry shade but I haven't hit upon the magic solution yet.

Through trial and error, though, I've found out that many succulents do quite well in fairly shady conditions. Even more surprisingly, that also goes for shrubby plants like manzanitas, especially the groundcover types native to the coast. They like to be protected from the hot afternoon sun and enjoy a drink now and then.

Here are some areas in the backyard that are getting closer to completion:


Thursday, October 10, 2019

New plants for our garden—always room for more!

Fall is the ideal planting time in our neck of the woods, they say ("they" including nurseries eager to, well, sell plants). While an argument could be made that for some types of plants, including succulents, spring is actually better, I'm not in an arguing mood today. Instead I want to show you all the wonderful things you can find at this time of year when botanical gardens, native plant societies and other organizations debut their new offerings. More temptation comes courtesy of commercial nurseries who routinely offer nice discounts, either on select groups of plants or even on their entire stock.

This is not the time to be disciplined so don't even bother. After all, who refuses a piece of cake on their own birthday! Buy what catches you eye and don't be afraid to take a chance on something that may not be perfectly ideal for your climate—nice surprises happen more often than you think!

But there's another source for new plants: friends and fellow plant geeks! Of course their generosity isn't limited to autumn, but there seems to be a shared desire to rehome plants before winter comes.

In this post I want to show you some of my recent plant hauls. Lest you ask, no, I don't know where all of them will go, but I home some ideas. Read on to find out.

Aloes from John and Justin, including rarities like Aloe ikiorum, Aloe lukeana, and Aloe vanbalenii × mawii as well as Aloe africana from Annie's Annuals and Aloe claviflora from Trader Joe's. There's also a ×Mangave 'Bloodspot' pup from Justin (and a nice-sized Agave applanata not shown in the photo).

On Saturday, I visited two friends in the Bay Area, John in Richmond and Justin in Pinole. Like me, they love aloes, in addition to being the nicest people. Above are the goodies they sent home with me, ranging from seedling they grew themselves to unexpected finds at places like Trader Joe's and Annie's Annuals. The seedlings are still small and will live in pots for at least another year, but the Aloe africana is ready to go in the ground now.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Small but splendid succulent garden at Orange Coast College (Old World section)

This post looks at the Old World section in the small but oh-so-fine succulent garden at Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa, California. If you haven't seen the New World section yet (on the left in the photo below), click here.

The Old World section takes up about half of the succulent garden. Just like its New World counterpart, it combines a representative selection of plants (all grown to perfection) with hardscape elements like boulders and a dry creek bed. The overall effect is beautiful and cohesive. Botanical gardens have both more plants and a wider variety—obviously!—but few have vignettes this attractive.

Old World section in the succulent garden at Orange Coast College

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Small but splendid succulent garden at Orange Coast College (New World section)

Quite a while ago, somebody told me about the succulent garden at a community college in Orange County. I couldn't remember who I'd gotten the tip from or what the name of the college was, but I decided to do some research when I was in Orange County a couple of weeks ago. A simple Google search led me to Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa. As luck would have it, our hotel was less than 5 miles away, and it took me just 10 minutes to get there.

From a brief article on the OCC web site, I knew that the succulent garden was behind the chemistry building which, in turn, is right next to the main parking lot. In other words, it didn't take me long to find what I'd come to see:


According to the article, the succulent garden began as a project in horticulture instructor Joe Stead's class “Cactus, Succulents, and their Use in Landscaping.” The hardscape and plants were installed in January 2012. Currently the small garden contains 60 species from 35 succulent genera from both the Old and the New World. Plant biology classes use the garden as a living laboratory to study parallel evolution.

Often a display garden at a public institution is a fairly modest affair—a sparse selection of common varieties necessitated, as much as anything, by a shoestring budget. That's what I expected to find at OCC as well. Fortunately, the reality is a lot more exciting. This is Orange County, after all.