Saturday, November 30, 2019

Front door succulent bed makeover update (Black Friday 2019)

Black Friday was cool but beautifully sunny. Knowing we're heading into a longer stretch of rain (much needed!), I took advantage of the nice weather to take some photos of the front garden.

We renovated the succulent bed by the front door in late October, and I've been adding some final touches since my original post.

 Peek at the area inside the street-side fence:


The newly overhauled bed is on the left, immediately behind the trio of ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata):


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Holiday book tip: Spiny Succulents by Jeff Moore

Jeff Moore is the owner of Solana Succulents, a brick-and-mortar specialty nursery in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach. Jeff's been in business for 27 years and has sold just about every succulent you can imagine. Through the contacts and friendships he's made over the years, he's had access to even the rarest plants. And because he's an avid photographer, he's taken countless pictures.

In 2014, Jeff self-published his first book, Under the Spell of Succulents, an introduction to the huge diversity of succulents found in cultivation. It distilled Jeff's succulent knowledge and his photographic skills into 250 pages and 800 photographs. Sparing no expense in production, Jeff set a new standard for what a self-published book can be.


Not one to rest on his laurels, Jeff released Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation (344 pages, 1000+ photos) in 2016 and Soft Succulents (300 pages, 1000+images) in 2017. Jeff had total control not only over the content but also over the printing, and it shows. These are heavy books, printed on state-of-the-art equipment, and the images are as good as it gets. In my opinion, all three of them are the visually most spectacular succulent books ever published.

Now, just in time for the holidays, comes Jeff's fourth book, Spiny Succulents. It's the logical continuation of the series and focuses on the opposite of “soft succulents:” euphorbias, cacti, terrestrial bromeliads and all kinds of other well-armed dryland plants. Since there is much territory cover, this is the biggest of Jeff's books: 350 pages and 1800+ images (a few by yours truly).

Let's take a look.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 3

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and this year I'm thankful that I got to spend time in Lotusland without being tied to a guided tour. Generally, that's the only way to see the gardens unless you have a membership. At the 2019 Bromeliad Summit, we were fortunate to have free roam before and after the day's activities and during breaks.

Here are the other installments of this 3-part series: part 1part 2.

Part 3 starts in the Water Garden, originally the swimming pool of the estate’s second owners. It was built in 1925; the pool house was designed by George Washington Smith, a leading proponent of the Spanish Colonial Revival style that gives much of Santa Barbara its distinctive look. Ganna Walska transformed the swimming pool into a pond and stocked it with Asian lotus, the inspiration for the name “Lotusland.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 2

This is part 2 of my 3-part post about visiting Ganna Walska Lotusland earlier this year. Part 1 left off in dragon tree grove across the front courtyard. Part 2 continues our journey in the oak grove next to the guest house where Ganna Walska chose to live (she used the main house mostly for storage). 

Here, sheltered by the canopy of decades-old oaks, bromeliads like aechmeas and alcantareas thrive on the ground while epiphytes like Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) are suspended from tree branches. Just beyond, the hundreds upon hundreds of columnar cactus that flank the approach to the main house glisten in the sun as if they were made of pure silver.


The sight was so arresting that I found it hard to tear myself away. I wasn't the only one. Even though there are no people in these photos, a group of at least a dozen 2019 Bromeliad Summit participants were standing near me, transfixed by this spectacle.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Visiting Lotusland — 1

Lotusland is one of the top garden attractions in California. Located in a quiet residential area in the upscale community of Montecito just east of Santa Barbara, it's only open from mid-February to mid-November and advance reservations are required (as per city regulations, only a limited number of visitors are allowed per day).

I was lucky to have the opportunity to roam free during the 2019 Bromeliad Summit. I made the most of the time I had available and took hundreds of photos—enough for three posts. This is part 1 of 3.

High drama near the main house

The history of Ganna Walska Lotusland, as it's officially called, is as quirky as the 20 different sections that make up this 37-acre estate. The property was purchased in 1941 by former opera diva and socialite Madame Ganna Walska for $40,000. She originally named it Tibetland with the intention of creating a retreat for Tibetan priests. The priests never came—they were unable to travel to the U.S. because of World War II—and Ganna Walska’s marriage to her 6th husband soon fell apart. Turning her back on men for good, she decided to invest all her energy and her considerable fortune—the spoils of several highly lucrative divorces—into creating a botanical wonderland unlike anything that had ever been seen before.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Death-defying suspension bridge over a raging waterfall

On the last day of our Remembrance Day Vancouver Island road trip we visited Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River on the east coast of the island. Elk Falls itself is beautiful although at 75 ft. not particularly tall.

The real attraction is the metal suspension bridge completed in 2015. I admit, “death-defying” is a bit of an exaggeration—it's not quite Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—but I look at any suspension bridge with a healthy dose of skepticism. I have a mild fear of heights, and being suspended on a swaying contraption over a gaping maw that looks like instant death does make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a bit.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fairytale forests on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is big: 290 miles long and 62 miles wide at its widest point. In terms of surface area, it's the largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand—about the size of Maryland or, if European comparisons make more sense, the size of Belgium. The vast majority of its 775,000 people live in the population centers along the coast, half of them in the Victoria Metropolitan Area at the southern tip of the island.

While Vancouver Island has one of the mildest climates in Canada and the south and east coast are comparatively dry, the west coast receives enormous amounts of precipitation. In fact, North America's wettest place is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Henderson Lake with 261 inches a year).

Large stretches of the island used to be temperate rainforest. However, according to Sierra Club estimates, only 1/5 of the original old-growth rainforest still exists; the rest has been logged or otherwise destroyed. Much of the remaining temperate rainforest is in undeveloped areas with no public roads, but we were able to get a glimpse in several easily accessible places.

The first was in Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park right on Highway 4 near Port Alberni. Cathedral Grove is a remnant of the ancient Douglas fir ecosystem. The largest trees are about 800 years old. If you want to read more, this is a good article.

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park: this has got to be the most scenic outhouse on Vancouver Island

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Playing tourist on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island

We're visiting daughter #1 in Victoria, British Columbia and are spending Remembrance Day weekend on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This remote and sparsely populated area is as beautiful as it is low key—perfect to unwind.

We're staying in Ucluelet (population 1717) on the edge of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This wild and undeveloped park is perfect for hiking, sea kayaking and surfing for those so inclined. We're far less motivated in that department; we're happy to let the day take us where it wants and simply enjoy the sights. Every now and then there's nothing better than going with the flow instead of making plans.

This is the view (literally) from our hotel room in Ucluelet:


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Fall color, finally—but I had to travel to British Columbia to find it

In the Sacramento Valley, daytime temperatures are still well into the 70s. There's a sense of fall in the air, but fall itself seems determined to keep us waiting. And rain? Let's not even talk about rain, or the lack thereof.

850 miles north of Davis, things are quite different. Stepping off the plane in Victoria, British Columbia where we're visiting daughter #1, was confirmation: Here they really are smack in the middle of fall. Temperatures are in the low 50's, not in the high 70's, it rained last night, and there is fall color!


Apparently we missed the fall color peak by a couple of weeks, but I wouldn't have known that walking through Finnerty Gardens, the botanical garden on the campus of the University of Victoria. It was like being inside a coffee table photography book: one beautiful sight after another. You cannot help but feel good about the world in an environment like that. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

California Cactus Center in Pasadena

On a recent trip to Southern California, I finally managed to visit California Cactus Center in Pasadena. It's one name that always comes up when you ask locals about succulent nurseries in the Southland. I've heard more than one comment about prices being on the high side, but even critical voices agree that they have a beautiful selection of well-staged plants.


California Cactus Center was established in 1976 by Thai immigrants Zhalermwudh and Maleenee Thongthiraj and is still owned by the family. The nursery is on a relatively small 12,000 sq. ft. lot next to a busy street, but it's packed with plants. Parking is tight (just a couple of spaces) so you may need to leave your car elsewhere and walk a few hundred yards.

Let's take a look around.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Front door succulent bed makeover

Gardens are anything but static. Plants grow, and grow—and then grow some more. Sometimes they end up outgrowing their spot, requiring us to make choices whether we like it or not. Here's a case in point, the bed near our front door:


I wasn't exactly unhappy with how things looked, but the Agave schidigera in the front had flowered and was dying; the Yucca recurvifolia 'Margaritaville' in the back had bloomed for the first time and was likely going to sprout multiple heads, meaning it would get even bigger; and the Agave cupreata in the lower left was just a bit too ungainly for where it was. Beyond the Agave cupreata was a hybrid Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora × campanulata) from the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden; it had flowered only once in 9 years, taking up valuable real estate without giving us much payback.