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.

As summer merged into fall, it became clear that this bed needed an overhaul. Since it's right next to the front door, we see it all the time. As a result, what might be a minor niggle elsewhere became a persistent thorn in my side. And who wants to live with that when you don't have to?

Taking out the unwanted plants went much faster than I'd expected, thanks in no small part to my trusted Root Slayer. (If I were ever banished to a remote island and could only bring one tool, it would be a Root Slayer.) Here's the “after” photo:

The three ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are staying, as are the blue Agave guadalajarana 'Leon' and some of the smaller aloes along the front.

The potted Yucca linearifolia has stayed, too, it just got moved further away from the path.

One major goal was to raise up the bed and add rocks. All it took was 1 cubic yard of top soil and 1,200 pounds of rock:

Quite a few rocks were hidden under the soil,

After a few hours of concerted soil and rock hauling, the bed looked much improved, even prior to planting:

The next photo gives you a better idea of how much height we added. Even factoring in the inevitable compaction, the bed will remain at least a foot higher than it was before.

The Agave 'Red Margin' and the dudleyas you see at the bottom of the next photo had been there all along, but the plants behind the ponytail palms are new.

Also new are the totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrose') I brought home from Arizona last December:

Next photo: In the 11 o'clock position is an Aloe vaombe I bought several years ago with the express intention of putting it in this spot. At the 2 o'clock position is a fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) that had been languishing in a pot, and to the right of it an Agave 'Snow Glow'. And finally, at the 4 o'clock position, a Cleistocactus brookeae I brought home from the CSSA Show and Sale at the Huntington this summer.

Here's a view from the front:

As you can see, I've added a bunch of plants towards front. Some will stay on the small side, others will fill in over the time. A little more work needs to be done in the back, but I'm not in a hurry now that the foundation has been laid.

New plants added to this bed:

Agave 'Snow Glow'
Agave albopilosa
Agave pintilla 2x
Agave victoriae-reginae 'Himesanoyuki'
Agave utahensis var. eborispina
Aloe dorotheae 2x
Aloe lukeana
Aloe vaombe
Cleistocactus brookeae
Hechtia aff. fosteriana
Hechtia argentea
Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrose' 4x
Mangave 'Red Wing'

I'll post plenty of updates as the plants mature.

On to the next project!

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