Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Things that caught my eye in the backyard today

I rarely take photos of the backyard because I'm perennially dissatisfied with it. Granted, there are areas I like, but as a whole, it's never come together the way the front yard has. The reason is simple: dry shade. There's a lot of it because of the way the lot is oriented; our next-door neighbor's house; and four mature California bay trees (Umbellularia californica) with a canopy so dense, it sucks up all the light. How I've tried to deal with dry shade, that's a topic for a separate post. For now, suffice it to say that I haven't been very successful.

Still, here's a collection of photos I took earlier today just to prove to myself that there are things worth showing.


This is our lone contestant in the fall color contest, a Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis). The Chinese pistache is indeed related to the pistachio (Pistacia vera) as well as the turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus).

Sunday, November 29, 2020

If you buy only one book this year, make it Fearless Gardening

 There are a lot of things you can give a gardener for the holidays—from the humorous to the practical—but what's better than inspiration in the form of a book? I'm a big fan of books, the old-fashioned printed kind, and I love giving and receiving them. Fortunately for all us, there seems to be no shortage of books relating to gardens, gardening, and plants. Just a take a look at Amazon's landing page for Gardening & Landscape Design

For better or for worse, there are so many books out there, it can be downright difficult to choose. I'll have a separate post soon with some recommendations, but let's jump right to the top of my list. If you buy only one gardening-related book this year, make it Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl.


Fearless Gardening won't officially come out until January 5, 2021so you can't give it as physical gift for the holidays. But you could make up a gift certificate for your favorite gardening friends and relatives. That way they'd start out the new year with a book chock full of garden inspiration.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

With any luck, we'll never see another year like 2020 in our lifetimes, but even amidst all the chaos and uncertainty there's a lot to be thankful for.

On that note, HAPPY THANKSGIVING to y'all. Enjoy the day with your loved ones, whether in person or virtually, and, above all, stay healthy.



Sunday, November 22, 2020

Pre-Thanksgiving front garden favorites

I find it hard to accept the fact that it's almost Thanksgiving. What a strange year it's been. Sometimes it seems like we've been stuck in 2020 for an eternity, and yet at other times, it feels like time has flown by even faster than usual. 

We had a little rain last week (emphasis on little), and while it wasn't enough to soak the soil, it did wash away the worst of the surface grime. A good opportunity to take a look at some of my favorites in the front garden!

Entrance to the front garden. I still can't believe these ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are taller than the garage roof now!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Mid-November aloe updates from our garden

With a couple of exceptions, most of my recent posts have focused on other gardens. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, especially considering how special my most recent visits have been (ample proof: Casper's and Daryl's garden, Justin's and Max's gardenKay's garden, Piece of Eden, and Hidden Agave Ranch). 

But after a long summer lull, things are picking up in our own garden. Some developments are me springing into action, others are just nature doing its thing. In the latter category, many aloes are responding to the noticeably cooler nights by taking on reddish and purplish hues. Here are some photos taken over the weekend:

Aloe 'Yemeni Gold' (far left, still green), Aloe excelsa (tomato soup red), Yucca 'Bright Star' (its usual color and obviously not an aloe), and Aloe marlothii (lavender gray)

Friday, November 13, 2020

A league of its own: Casper's and Daryl's garden in Oakland (part 2)

As I said in part 1 of this post, Casper and Daryl's hillside garden in Oakland would be impressive enough if it only consisted of the lower portion. But there was a lot more to come. 

As I was climbing the stairs, I had no clear idea what I would see. Frankly, that's my favorite way of experiencing a garden I'm visiting for the first time: with no expectations and no preconceived ideas. The less I know ahead of time, the more exciting it becomes; there's always time to find out more later on.

On that note, let's start a few steps up from where part 1 left off:

As you know, I'm not biggest fan of Agave americana, but this specimen is magnificent. It might be the variety expansa, the largest of the species.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A league of its own: Casper's and Daryl's garden in Oakland (part 1)

 All of us occasionally hear talk of very special gardens almost too good to be true. 

“Have you been to so-and-so's garden? It's really something!”

“You haven't seen so-and-so's garden? You must go!”

“I can't believe you haven't visited so-and-so's garden. It's unreal!”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of these gardens thanks to my friend Mat McGrath. He introduced me to Casper Curto who created the garden with his partner Daryl Ducharme. As it turns out, Casper and Daryl live just a few miles from my friends Justin and Max, and they all know each other (we went over to Justin's and Max's garden afterwards). Proof that it's a small world and that there's quite a network of gardeners and plant enthusiasts in the Bay Area.

Justin, Max, and Casper in front of Casper and Daryl's Oakland house

Casper and Daryl live in a hilly part of Oakland, and their property slopes up from the house. I had assumed that their lot was city-sized, somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet. Boy, was I mistaken!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Major bamboo removal in our front yard

This post is both of a source of sadness and excitement for me. Why? Because we're losing another clumping bamboo, leaving just two. That's a considerable decrease since the early days of this blog when it was called “Bamboo and More.” I still love bamboo, but since our garden is so small, every square foot matters—and bamboo takes up a significant chunk of real estate.

Since Monday was curbside yard waste pickup here in Davis, I decided to use the weekend to remove the clump of Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides 'Viridivittata') in the front yard:


It's been a huge presence in this spot for many years:

Monday, November 2, 2020

Justin's and Max's Oakland garden: the back

In part 1 of my visit to Justin's and Max's Oakland garden I showed the plantings in front of the house. This post is about the back garden. 

While the front garden is more of a square, the back garden is a long rectangle along the side of the house, maybe a bit over 1,000 sq.ft. in size. But don't let that description fool you. What this area lacks in size it more than makes up for in visual impact. 

As I mentioned before, Max is a horticulturist with a deep plant knowledge—an access to wealth of plant sources. Justin, an Episcopalian priest, may not be a plant professional, but he, too, knows a ton about plants. Both of them are drawn to plants that are anything but ordinary. This post is living proof.

Iochroma 'Royal Blue' from Annie's Annuals. Iochromas are shrubs or small trees native to South America where they grow in relatively moist forest conditions. That explains why I've failed miserably trying to grow them in our garden in Davis.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Justin's and Max's Oakland garden: the front

Last weekend, I finally had the opportunity to visit the garden of my friends Justin and Max in Oakland. I'd long followed the garden's evolution—and its plant and animal inhabitants—on Max's and Justin's Instagram pages. Seeing their garden in person was a bit like déjà vu, but there were still plenty of surprises.

The biggest was how mature the plantings were, considering the garden is only 3 years old. There is no automatic irrigation system so everything is hand-watered; Max says even that isn't as regular as it could or should be. The mild Oakland climate definitely helps speed things along!

Max is a professional horticulturist working for a large landscape construction company, and his and Justin's garden masterfully combines their personal favorites. As I was driving down their street, I knew immediately which property was theirs since no other house had a garden like theirs. (Their next-door neighbor gave them permission to plant up their front yard so soon two lots on their street will have standout gardens.)

I took so many photos that I've split my post into two parts. This one installment is about the front garden. Part 2 is about the back garden.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Return to Kay's Southern California garden

When I visited Piece of Eden a few weeks ago, garden blogger Hoover Boo took me to see her friend Kay who lives a few streets away--a repeat of what we'd done in December 2017. Kay and her husband bought their ¾ acre hillside property in the 1970s. Things have changed tremendously since then, but this hidden corner of Orange County is still peaceful and quiet, probably because most properties are large (½ acres or more).

Kay loves plants, and it shows.  As I walked through her garden, I recognized some plants from my previous visit, but others were new. Kay's garden, like all gardens tended with enthusiasm and passion, is ever-changing. 

As you'll see, the Goldilocks climate of Orange County where it virtually never freezes allows Kay to grow plants outside that would croak in a Davis winter, even in the milder ones we've enjoyed in recent years courtesy of climate change.

Mexican bird of paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) in all its glory

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A socially distanced visit to Southern California's Piece of Eden

Piece of Eden is one of the gardening blogs I've followed the longest. It's been so inspiring to see how blogger Hoover Boo's Southern California garden has evolved over the years. While her climate is noticeably milder than mine (especially in the winter), I've been able to successfully grow many of the same plants featured in her garden—although with ½ acre at her disposal, her canvas is decidedly grander.

On my recent trip to Southern California, I had the opportunity to revisit this spectacular garden, COVID-19 precautions and all. This visit was far more socially distanced than my previous visits (December 2017 | July 2019), with no hugs, but it was rewarding nonetheless. How could it not be when this is what greets you as you get out the car:

Aloe desmettiana 'Joe Hoak'

But let's start with what Hoover Boo calls the front slope:

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Yucca queretaroensis haircut

On Saturday, I finally got around to a project I'd been postponing for quite a while: trimming the Yucca queretaroensis in the smaller of the two succulent mounds in the front garden. Look how little it was when I got it from Greg Starr in December 2013!

Fast-forward almost seven years:


That cute little plant has grown into a strapping adolescent!

Unfortunately, it's leaves are rigid and end in sharp points—perfect for poking an eye out when working near them. To reduce the risk of injury at least somewhat, I cut off a good ⅓ of the bottom leaves. I was shocked by the difference this made:


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Jeremy Spath's Hidden Agave Ranch: the greenhouse

In my first post about Hidden Agave Ranch, I showed you the spectacular grounds and many of the agaves Jeremy has growing in the ground. This post focuses on the greenhouse, which is home both to Jeremy's personal collection and to the agaves he grows for sale.

Here's the entrance to the greenhouse. The hill on the left is dedicated to plants from Baja California.


And a wide-angle view of the inside:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Jeremy Spath's Hidden Agave Ranch: the grounds

On my recent trip to Southern California, I finally had the opportunity to visit a place at the very top of my plant-related bucket list: Hidden Agave Ranch in North San Diego County. This is where agave guru Jeremy Spath lives with his family, and it's where he performs his plant breeding magic. 

Jeremy may look like the quintessential surfer—and surfing is one of his passions—but his focus is on plants, above all agaves. He travels to study them in habitat, he cultivates and propagates them at home, and he creates completely novel hybrids, some of which are for sale on his website Hidden Agave. Soon he'll be able to add “author” to his résumé as he's working on a new agave book with Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents.

Horticulture wasn't Jeremy's original career, but after he'd been bitten by the plant bug, he jumped into it with both feet. His first stint was at San Diego Botanic Garden where he accumulated extensive plant knowledge. This was followed by time at Rancho Soledad Nurseries where he was able to do more field work and hybridizing. In 2018 he bought his current property and started Hidden Agave Ranch. Jeremy also owns his own landscape design company, Water's Path. You can find photos of his landscape installations on Water's Path's Instagram.

Hidden Agave Ranch is a 7½ acre hillside property north of Escondido. With nothing but open land on two sides, it seems even bigger. Jeremy is the definitely the king of the hill in his corner of San Diego County! 

Beyond sweeping views, the hilltop location has other benefits that are particular important for a plant person: Cold air flows down the hill, leaving Jeremy's property frost-free. If everything else hadn't already made me envious, this last bit would have done it!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Serious cactus collector = seriously large greenhouse

In my recent post about my friend Theresa's garden—remember her incredible Southwest-inspired home?—I mentioned that she and her son, a serious succulent collector in his own right, have several greenhouses. The smallest of them can be seen reflected in the pool:

Theresa's smallest greenhouse reflected in the pool

This is Theresa's greenhouse. It may be the smallest of the three, but it's chock full of wonderful plants, mostly cacti:

Friday, October 9, 2020

Quick trip to Annie's Annuals—20% off sale until October 11, 2020

I unexpectedly found myself with some free time on Thursday morning so I decided to make a quick trip to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, about an hour's drive provided traffic cooperates (it did). It was a surprisingly cool morning in Davis and even cooler in Richmond. In fact, the sky was so gray that I thought it was going to rain (it didn't). As an added plus, the even light did make for good photography.

Here are some pictures of the public plantings along the entrance and along the sidewalk:

This view, as seen from Market Street, changes frequently

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A Southwest garden experience in Sacramento, California

With very few occasions to visit other gardens this year, I jump at every opportunity I get. And I really struck gold a couple of weeks ago when I finally got to see the property of a friend in the greater Sacramento area. I was there in the early evening so the photos in this post have a warm cast.

I knew her place was large—about two acres, which is somewhere between gigantic and enormous by local standards—so I expected to be wowed. But I was not prepared for this level of wow:


Had I fallen asleep behind the wheel and woken up a few days later in New Mexico?

No, I was still in Sacramento County. This was “just” one of those exceptional places that are tucked away in quiet neighborhoods far from my regular routes.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Cactus magic: Echinocactus polycephalus

We all need a bit of magic in our lives right now. Here's my contribution for today.

Take a cactus with seemingly gray spines:


Spray it with water:


Wow!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Out with Agave ‘Mad Cow’, in with Agave gypsicola

Agave 'Mad Cow', a hybrid between Agave bovicornuta and Agave colorata, began to flower in the driveway bed earlier this year:

Agave 'Mad Cow' on May 31, 2020

I waited for seeds, but there were none (being a hybrid, it may be sterile). Hoping for some offsets, I left the dying rosette in place until last weekend when I decided it was time to remove the carcass. Would there be some pups underneath the mess of desiccated leaves?

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Solana Succulents is my kind of nursery

My previous post was about Roger's Garden, an upscale destination nursery in Corona del Mar, a wealthy coastal community south of Los Angeles. Roger's Gardens has been around for decades. It has a large loyal clientele, and I bet many of their customers are into decor as much as plants (or even more so). I enjoy visiting Roger's Gardens once or twice a year, however often I happen to be in the area, but it's not really my kind of nursery.

You know what is? Solana Succulents, a small nursery in the coastal town of Solana Beach in northern San Diego county. I've blogged about Solana Succulents before, but their eclectic inventory changes constantly so there's always something new to explore. There are many nooks and crannies in the nursery, as you'll see below. Poking around is not only fun but also completely unpredictable, seeing how you never know what you might find.

A large Aloidendron barberae and several massive cactoid euphorbias, including Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata', grow right in the middle of the nursery. Their silhouettes against the sky make for a dramatic photo: 


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Quick visit to Roger's Gardens, Orange County's premier destination nursery

I just got back from a quick trip to Southern California to drop daughter #2 off at college (again). Traffic through the Los Angeles area was busier than at the end of March when we picked her up—and shelter-in-place ordinances had just gone into effect—but not as bad a pre-COVID days.

I did manage to carve out time for a few plant-related outings. The first one was to Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar (essentially Newport Beach). Roger's Gardens has a storied history. From the beginning, it's been more than just a business selling plants. Today, its motto is “Discover, Experience, Connect,“ and its inventory is as heavy on home decor as it is on plants. A well-loved restaurant focusing on locally sourced foods and seasonal boutiques round out the offerings that make Roger's Gardens a destination for shoppers from Orange and neighboring counties.

Newport Beach is one of the wealthiest communities in California (their striking Civic Center is a succulent wonderland), and Roger's Gardens is clearly targeting the well-heeled local clientele. As they say, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. I'm only half joking.

Having said that, here are some grab shots from my quick visit to Roger's Gardens last Tuesday afternoon:

All garbage cans should look like this! Of course, there's no telling how long they would remain this pristine out in public.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Look at the spines on these cacti!

I pay a lot of attention when I visit other gardens. Interesting details jump out at me seemingly on their own. The same cannot always be said for our own garden. Maybe it's because I see the plants on a constant basis so I take their special characteristics for granted?

But taking the time to smell the roses look closer can reveal amazing things. This post is a great example. Take a look at the loooooong spines on these two cacti! Whether you're a fan of spiky plants or not, you've got to admit that these are impressive!


Some of the spines on this Ferocactus rectispinus are a full 6 inches long! That's more than 15 cm for all the metric folks out there.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Smoke-filled visit to Troy McGregor's fusion garden

Last Saturday the air quality index in Northern California was firmly in the unhealthy-bordering-on-hazardous range. Not as bad as in Southern California, Oregon and Washington, but still bad enough. 

Not that I let myself be stopped by that. Sick of being cooped up inside, I made the 1-hour drive to Martinez to pick up some plants from plantsman extraordinaire Troy McGregor, former nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden and now in business for himself creating low-water landscapes. Troy is one of the chief enablers of my plant hoarding; may the universe bless him for that.

I've blogged about Troy's garden before (October 2018 ⏐ September 2018 ⏐ April 2018), but it's constantly evolving so there's always something new to see. Troy used the downtime resulting from COVID-19 restrictions earlier in the year very well—all too often, landscape designers have no time for their own space.

The biggest change is the addition of a chicken coop in the backyard. But it's not a haphazardly thrown together structure, it's a fowl log cabin:


Sunday, September 13, 2020

When it's hard to breathe, give yourself license to take it easy

The smoke from wildfire continues to hang heavy in the air, leading to unhealthy (or worse) hazard air quality index (AQI) readings. As bad as our air seems, it pales in comparison to the off-the-charts AQI values in Oregon. Portland has been in the high 400s (on a scale from 0 to 500), and some areas have reported readings in the 700s—apparently something never thought possible by the creators of the AQI scale. My heart goes out to everybody affected.

I took the following photo yesterday on Interstate 80 between Vacaville and Fairfield. This area was burning not even a month ago as part of the 350,000 acre LNU Lightning Complex fires. The hills you see in the distance are black now instead of brown.

I applied a stack of effects to this photo so you can clearly see the smoke in the air

Monday, September 7, 2020

UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley: New World Desert (August 2020)

At the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG), the hill that is home to the Southern Africa Collection looks down (literally) at the New World Desert. This is what you see:


If this were my garden, I'd be ecstatic!

With so many agaves, there's always something in bloom. Here's an octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) whose flower stalk is covered with bulbils—miniature plants which, in time, will detach and fall to the ground where they will hopefully find a bit of soil to root in. But that's in nature; I'm sure that at the UCBG the inflorescence will be harvested.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley: South African Collection (August 2020)

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley (UCBG) is open daily from 12 to 5 pm, but visitors need to make a reservation. Fortunately, that's easy to do online, and same-day reservations are usually available. The upside of the reservation system is that fewer people visit at any given time, making it much easier to find parking at the Garden's parking lot.

In late July, I blogged about the Mexico and Central America Collection and the Australasia Collection. This post is about the Southern Africa Collection; the next one will be about the New World Desert.

The Southern Africa Collection features everything from spring-blooming bulbs (now dormant), to proteas, ericas and restios, to cycads. What I'm most interested in, of course, are the succulents, especially aloes. 

While late winter/early spring is the best time to see aloes in bloom, there were a few even now. But aloes are beautiful year-round; the flowers are just a temporary bonus.

The beauty in the middle is the tilt-head aloe (Aloe speciosa).
As its common name suggests, the head is tilted towards the sun instead of growing straight up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Mariel's collector garden: more plant fun in the sun

This post continues where part 1 left off. It covers the area marked #2 in the satellite photo shown in part 1.

The side yard on the south side of Mariel and Ian's property gets full afternoon sun. To take advantage of this, Mariel created a couple of mounds planted with a wide variety of succulents:


Take a look at the slabs of stone framing this bed:

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mariel's collector garden: succulents, pots, fairies and goblins

Visits to private gardens have been few and far between this year, but on Saturday I had the opportunity to visit the garden of Mariel Dennis, the President of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). I'd last seen Mariel's garden in June 2017, and I was eager to find out what had changed.

In a nutshell: Mariel has greatly increased her collection of potted succulents. I don't think I've ever seen a private garden with as many potted specimens. I was joking that one might think they've walked into an upscale garden shop where rare plants were sold in matching pots. 

Mariel is a serious collector, but she has a sense of humor and a taste for the whimsical:

I had so much fun exploring Mariel's garden and collection that I took 200+ photos. Even with rigorous editing, that leaves too many images for one post, so I'll have two: one about the area marked #1 in the satellite image below, and the other about the area marked #2:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mid-year reality check

Gardening is fun, at least most of the time. But many things are out of our control, and we simply have to accept the fact that s*#t happens. Especially in the year 2020 which seems doggedly determined to wobble from bad to worse. 

As if COVID-19 weren't enough, we just went through the most oppressive heat wave in years. And now California is burning: 300+ wildfires caused by lightning strikes combined with extreme dryness. Davis is not in any danger, but a pall of smoke has been hanging in the air for almost a week, leading to apocalyptic-looking skies and very unhealthy air.

Early evening sky from our front yard

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

UC Davis Arboretum in the midday sun

It turns out it's not only Englishmen and mad dogs who go out in the midday sun. I did, too, on Sunday when it was 102°F out. It started out as a joke with my wife and daughter, but then it became a dare, and I simply couldn't back down. That's how I found myself on the UC Davis campus at 12:30pm with the sun beating down on me.

I only lasted for 45 minutes, but I managed to check on a few things, including the Arboretum Teaching Nursery where the plant sales are held: usually three in the spring and three in the fall. In a normal year, that is. In 2020, all plant sales have been canceled—just another nail in the coffin of this terrible year. In the meantime, the 50,000+ sale plants in the nursery are being cared for by a skeleton crew. They'll be extra large next year when (knock on wood!) the plant sales will resume.


Me longingly peeking through the chain-link fence into the nursery:

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Gravity always wins

The flower stalk of the Agave parrasana along the sidewalk is now close to 7 ft. tall. Impressive for sure, but that's not the focus of this post. Instead, look at the aloe to the left of the agave:


That's the real news. At some point in the last few days, gravity finally won out and caused the top-heavy Aloe ferox to topple over. Even though its leaves had become fairly desiccated in recent weeks, it was still a big guy. 

For comparison, here's a photo from mid-March 2020 when this Aloe ferox was in bloom and the leaves were fat and juicy:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Up, up, and away!

While some plants prefer to lay low in the summer heat, others shift into high gear. Here are a few prime examples of the latter, all from our garden.

The Agave parrasana next to the sidewalk has been busy pumping energy into its asparagus-like flower stalk. It's now taller the 6 ft. fence behind it.

Aloe ferox (left), Agave parrasana (middle) and Aloidendron 'Hercules' (right)

Agave parrasana is native to the Parras Mountains in the southeast of the Mexican state of Coahuila, about 300 miles south of the Texas border, where it grows at 4,500 to 8,000 ft. Since the winters can be frigid, the flower stalk of Agave parrasana emerges during summer and early fall and then stops for the cold season. Thick bracts protect the immature flowers against freeze damage. The following spring, the inflorescence completes its growth, with flowers emerging from side branches off the stalk.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Depupping ‘White Rhino’

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae) is arguably one of the most beautiful and therefore most popular agaves. There are many different forms:  the all-green standard form with a varying number of white markings; several selections with yellow variegation; and a few clones with white variegation. The latter are quite rare, and hence highly sought after. 

One of the white-variegated forms is called ‘White Rhino’. It has off-white stripes on the outside and green in the middle. (A form called 'Mediopicta Alba' has the reverse: white in the center, green along the margins.)

I bought a ‘White Rhino’ offset a number of years ago—seven? eight?—and it's grown slowly but steadily. A speed demon it ain't, but few agaves are. 

On the upside, my ‘White Rhino’ has produced a handful of pups, and I finally decided to remove them so they can start life on their own (and hopefully make their own babies eventually).
Agave victoria-reginae ‘White Rhino’, about 7½ inches across

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Repotting in my favorite new soil blend

Plants often let us know what they need. All we have to do is look. Some cases are more transparent than others, but it doesn't get more obvious than this:

Acanthocereus rosei, a scrambling/climbing cactus from Mexico with beautiful flowers

This used to be a perfectly square pot. Doesn't look so regular anymore, does it? 

The ripples and bulges aren't caused by the plastic melting in the sun. It's the plant telling me it wants a bigger place to live. And here it is:

Saturday, August 1, 2020

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: a bit of Australia/NZ and Africa

This is part 2 of my recent visit to the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, you need to make a reservation before you can visit the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG). My reservation was for 2:30 pm so I only had 2½ hours until closing—not a lot of time, considering the garden is a sprawling 34 acres in size. My friends Max and Justin and I focused on the Mexico & Central America Collection, but on the way there, we walked by the Australasia Collection. Among many things, it contains beautiful specimens from Australia, like these Tasmanian tree ferns:

Tasmanian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica)

More tree ferns are in the Cycad & Palm Garden surrounding the Conference Center and Tropical House, but that section is closed (unfortunately) because the paths there are narrow and social distancing would be difficult. I was disappointed because it's one my favorite spots at the UCBG.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: Americas

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was closed longer than many other public gardens in California because it's on the campus of UC Berkeley and therefore subject to its regulations. Even now you need to make a reservation in order to visit, although even same-day reservations are generally available.

Feeling a bit restless, I made a reservation for last Saturday, and as luck would have it, my Bay Area friends Justin and Max were able to join me. It was great meeting up with them since they share my enthusiasm for plants. Even though we were wearing masks (required at the UCBG) and kept our distance from each other, it almost felt like a return to normal—the old normal, the one that's beginning to fade into oblivion...

Selfie with Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria)

Justin, Max and I, aka the Three Plant Amigos, spent most of our time in the Mexico & Central America Collection (see garden map), skirting Australasia and South America where I took the Gunnera selfie above. 

As the UCBG website states, the Mexico & Central America Collection “is representative of plants from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges of Mexico south to the higher elevations of Central America. Two major plant communities are represented: pine-oak woodland and cloud forest.”

It may come as a surprise that Mexican succulents, including the likes of agaves and beschornerias, often favor somewhat sheltered positions near or under trees or shrubs rather than growing out in the open. Relatively few agaves are true desert dwellers adapted to life in the hot blazing sun; these tend to have pale blue or silver leaves. Species with greener leaves are typically denizens of higher-elevation pine-oak communities.

Agave “sp.” (always my favorite label) and Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

I love everything about this vignette

I did a double-take when I saw this, thinking it was a new-to-me agave species. Not so. It's a Furcraea guatemalensisFurcraea being a related genus.

Agave marmorata, small and cute now but able to grow to giant proportions (in excess of 6 ft. in height and width)

Another Agave marmorata

Agave wocomahi

Agave wocomahi may not be a household name, but it deserves to be more widely grown since it's very cold hardy

Labeled “Nolina sp.”

Dasylirion acrotrichum in the front, unknown Nolina behind it

Agave gentryi growing in quite a bit of shade

Beautiful Agave “sp.”

This Manfreda sp. is an example of a plant so ugly only a real aficionado can love it

Cycads are another major plant group from Mexico I'm fond of. This is a rare Dioon sonorense.

Yucca rostrata towering over everything else

Agave “sp.” growing in fairly dense shade

Beschorneria albiflora

My latest plant crush: Brahea decumbens. I've long been enamored with the Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata), but it's a big plant that takes up a substantial amount of room. Brahea decumbens, on the other hand, is much smaller, only to 6 ft. in many years. Needless to say that, like so many other plants I become focused on, Brahea decumbens is rare and virtually impossible to find.

Brahea decumbens

Dioon edule, much easier to find and faster as well—but alas, not a blue palm!

Echeveria gigantea growing in conditions that I assume are similar to its natural habitat

If I hadn't seen the label, I wouldn't have believed that this is an oxalis: Oxalis magnifica

I don't associate tree ferns with Mexico/Central America, but here's one: Cyathea fulva, hailing from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas

Cyathea fulva frond getting ready to unfurl

Another relatively rare Mexican cycad, Dioon tomaselli

A few photos from the South America collection:

Gunnera tinctoria

And yours truly for scale (photo by Justin Cannon)

Aechmea recurvata var. ortgiesii growing in a crack in this rock

Next up, Baja California:

Agave datylio

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana

Agave shawii ssp. goldmanniana with Dudleya brittonii. Check out the incredibly long flower stalks!

I went a bit overboard taking photos of Dudleya brittonii...

...but it's such a beauty (here with Hechtia montana)

More Dudleya brittonii




OK, last Dudleya brittonii photo

A close relative, Dudleya anthonyii

A shrub for a change: Tecoma stans

Hechtia texensis at the entrance plaza:




The world-famous clump of hedgehog agave (Agave stricta) next to the tour deck:


One of the UCBG's signature plants, Agave mitis var. albidior 'UCBG':


And, to wrap things up, a personal favorite, Puya coerulea


A nice place to nap as long as you stay on the bench!


In part 2, I'll show you photos from other collections at the UC Botanical Garden, including Australasia.


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