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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