Thursday, July 2, 2020

Ruth Bancroft Garden in late June 2020

It's no secret that the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek is one of my favorite gardens, and I jump at every chance I get to visit.

That's exactly what happened last Saturday. I had somewhere to be in East Bay, and the RBG was only 15 minutes further. It would have been foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity!

COVID-19 measures are still in force, including the mandatory use of face masks and social distancing. Everybody I saw was complying, and nobody was disgruntled or ill-tempered. These requirements are simply the new normal.

The RBG is getting ready for their annual Sculpture in the Garden show starting on Friday, July 17 and running until September 1. Quite a few sculptures were in place already while others were still waiting near the entrance. You'll see some of entries in the photos below, but without credits since the pieces hadn't been labeled yet.

Agave franzosinii


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Summer 2020 desert road trip: a fantasy

From the photos below, it's easy to see what I really want to do right now: go on a road trip, preferably to the desert. I know, it's sizzling hot there right now, it being summer and all, but that's just one of those facts of life you deal with. After all, we've been dealing with far worse these past few months—three, four? I can hardly remember how many it's been.

But no matter how much I want to go, it's still too dicey out there for me to be comfortable. So for now, all I can do is look at the photos below as I indulge in this fantasy.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Low-key Father's Day weekend in the garden

I had a low-key weekend doing odd jobs in the garden—trimming, weeding, rearranging, etc. Nothing too exciting, but not every minute can be filled with thrills and titillation. I did stop now and then to take some pictures of the garden. I enjoy having these frozen moments in time to look back on down the line.

Early evening in the front garden

Friday, June 19, 2020

Return to Tucson's Pima Prickly Park

When I was in Tucson, Arizona last December, I swung by Pima Prickly Park one cold morning to see how it had changed from my January 2019 visit.  The good news: It's still there, and the plants are doing their thing, growing slowly but steadily. The bad news: There isn't any. And that's a wonderful thing for a public garden run entirely by volunteers on virtually no money.


The 7-acre park is owned by Pima County and run by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society. The TCSS signed a 15-year operating agreement with Pima County in 2010, and the park was officially dedicated in 2012. As I said in an earlier post, TCSS members have volunteered countless hours and donated countless plants to create a desert habitat park that highlights desert plants. The park is not fenced so it's basically open anytime, although technically the hours are from sunrise to sunset. There is no fee for parking or admission.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The weed I love to hate

Weeds are a fact of life for a gardener. I'm not obsessive-compulsive about weeding; in fact, I'm quite tolerant towards some (Mexican needle grass, I hope you appreciate it). But there's one weed that drives me bonkers: spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata). It's an annual that goes away in the fall and doesn't come back until late spring. But when it does, it's seemingly overnight—and it's everywhere, especially in inconvenient spots like this:


That's my prized Ferocactus rectispinus, a formidably armed barrel cactus. As you can see, the spotted spurge has staked its claim in this pot.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Something different: rarely seen sights from the back garden

Usually my posts focus on the plantings in front of the house. Arguably, that's the most photogenic part of the garden, and the area where I've invested most of my energy in recent years. But the back yard has seen progress as well—nothing flashy, but slow and steady.

Time to show you some vignettes:

Agave chiapensis, getting massive. Behind is the bottle tree I put up after seeing so many of them in Austin, Texas in 2018.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

First major heat wave victim: Grevillea 'Kings Fire'

Last week, temperatures jumped from the high 70s to the low 100s in just a couple of days. I was groaning, but I do that a lot—and I have a cool house to retreat to.

This poor baby wasn't so lucky. In fact, it's the biggest victim of this mini heat wave:


It's my prized Grevillea 'Kings Fire'. Last week, it was blooming merrily. Now it looks like a hair bleaching experiment gone horribly wrong:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

End of May in the garden

There's never been a May quite like this—month 2 (and a half) of sheltering in place. The human residents are getting antsy, itching to go beyond the confines dictated by COVID-19. The plants, on the other hand, don't care. They like it here, and they never go anywhere anyway.

It was a perfect May until this past week when a short but brutal heat wave knocked humans and plants alike for a loop. After a 20-degree drop, we've had a beautiful weekend but another mini heat wave is in the forecast. The first tentacles of summer are causing ripples.

Let's take a look at the front garden:

Front garden as seen from the porch (never mind the cluttered table)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ruth Bancroft Garden shade structure renovation

The heart of the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) is, quite literally, the metal shade structure that gets wrapped in plastic in the winter to protect the sensitive plants that live there.

The original structure was built in 1972 and, after 48 years, needed rehabbing. In addition, the planting bed had issues with bad drainage and compacted soil. In April, the entire structure was taken down to allow the workers to bring in heavy machinery. In any garden, the work is never over. That's doubly true for a large garden like the RBG.

When I visited in mid-May, the shade structure was back up, additional soil had been brought in to raise the planting mound, and the workers were getting ready to place rocks.


But where are the plants?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Pre-Memorial Day outing to Annie's Annuals

Finding myself with some unexpected free time on Thursday, I decided to make a quick trip to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, about an hour from my house. I thought I'd have the nursery all to myself, but I was severely mistaken. Even at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, there was a line outside the nursery just to get in (because of social distancing requirements, they limit the number of customers that can be inside the nursery at the same time):

Line outside the nursery. Every time a customer left, somebody waiting in line was able to go in.

It took a good half hour to get in, but I didn't hear any impatient grumbling. That in itself surprised me because patience has its limits—I know from personal experience. However, the people I was in line with all seemed understanding and respectful of the restrictions. For the most part, plant people are good people!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Ruth Bancroft Garden is open again—and better than ever

Like most public gardens in the U.S., the Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) in Walnut Creek, California, just under an hour from my house, had to close its gates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as California and Walnut Creek are beginning their recovery, the RBG was allowed to re-open last week.

I visited last Saturday, sporting the still-required face mask that has become the emblem of this crazy time. Traffic through the nursery is one-way now, and signs all over the garden ask visitors to keep 6 feet apart. I arrived at 11:00 a.m. and while there was a steady stream of visitors, there weren't enough people to cause any issues with keeping my distance.

I don't know if this a particularly fine spring or if the plants have been receiving additional TLC, but the RBG looked even more splendid than usual. Everything appeared brighter and more vivid. Maybe it's because I've spent so much time in home confinement, but the outside world seemed to have an extra sparkle to it.

I took a lot of photos—my camera was in serious need of a workout—and even though I've tried to edit them down, there are still about 60 I want to show you. Savor them slowly, like a box of fine chocolates.

What a magnificent specimen of Yucca rostrata to grace the entrance! The building behind it is the new Visitor and Education Center.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Urban Ore: Berkeley salvage yard with unexpected plantings

Remember the upcycled metal pieces in landscape designer Mat McGrath's Berkeley Hills garden (read post here)? Many of them came from Urban Ore, a salvage and recycling yard/warehouse in Berkeley. Opened in 1981, it's become a beloved institution: a year-round flea market, vintage store, and treasure trove for artists and homeowners alike. As this 2017 article says, "[the owners are] probably singlehandedly responsible for much of the boho chic, eclectic and worn aesthetic that pervades thousands of homes around the East Bay."

I decided to check it out myself last Saturday, focusing on the outside area to see what I might find for the garden. I was hoping to unearth some rusty pipe sections tall and wide enough to plant in. No such luck, but I did buy a few things. Read on to find out what.


I could (and should) do an entire post about all the stuff waiting to be discovered at Urban Ore, but today I want to focus something unexpected: the plantings outside the warehouse and along the parking lot perimeter.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Revisiting Mat McGrath's garden in the Berkeley Hills

Last weekend, I met up with landscape designer Mat McGrath of Farallon Gardens at his private garden in the Berkeley Hills. Since my first visit in August 2019, Mat and I have become fast friends—not an unusual phenomenon among hyperfocused plant nerds.

This was my first garden visit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was odd to be out and about. During the 60-minute drive to Kensington, I felt a strange mix of uneasiness and guilt, almost as if I were doing something illegal. However, that uncomfortable sensation went away instantly after I arrived. It's easy to see why.

An inspired combo: Puya coerulea var. coerulea and Leucospermum 'Blanche Ito' in front of a large restio (Rhodocoma capensis)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Agave photo overload

I was asked to submit photos for possible inclusion in an upcoming book on agaves so I combed through tens of thousands of photos from the last 10 years. I knew I had taken a lot of plant pictures, but I was still surprised by the sheer number.

The images I selected run the gamut from wide-angle shots to close-ups, and they show dozens of different species, including some mangaves. I have no idea how many will make it into the book—it may be none, one, a few, or a dozen. It all depends on which particular gaps need to be filled.

I thought I'd share thumbnails of my submission with you, not only because it's always fun to see agave pictures, but also because they highlight the huge variety that exists within the genus.

Lean back and enjoy!


Monday, May 4, 2020

Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi may be a tongue twister, but it's oh so pretty

I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath to find out what replaced the leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii that got moved to the naughty corner. I went through several options in my mind—another aloe, an agave, or maybe something strappy like a Strelitzia juncae—but I eventually settled on something completely different: a tongue-twisting Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi. Like most cycads, it's fairly slow growing so it will be fine in this spot for many years to come.

Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi

Encephalartos friderici-guilielmi is native to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa and loves a hot, sunny spot. In fact, the more direct sun it gets, the bluer the leaves become. Over time (decades!) it will develop a trunk, but I'm fairly sure I'll never get to experience a sight like this.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Aloe being sent to the naughty corner

Two months ago, I showed you how we propped up a leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii with a large rock so it would grow more upright. It seemed like a good idea at the time and it worked—to a degree. Actually, maybe it worked too well, because after a while the aloe decided to flop a different way:


If anything, the tilt was even more pronounced!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Who can resist a Mexican grass tree for $10.50?

There are few things I find harder to resist than plants sold at a great price. If it's a plant I don't have yet, even better. But I won't automatically turn down a plant just because I already have one in the garden.

Here's a case in point: A few weekends ago, I ventured to Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento to buy some vegetable starts. Needless to say I checked out the non-vegetable offerings as well. And lo and behold, I found a bunch of Mexican grass trees (Dasylirion longissimum) in #1 pots for $10.50.

What's remarkable is the size of these dasylirions: They were larger than the plants in #5 pots for $30! In fact, the plastic containers were deformed by the pressure from the roots. And yet, as root bound as they were, they looked perfectly happy.

Would you be surprised if I told you that I bought one? Of course not. I already have two Dasylirion  longissimum, but seeing how it's a favorite of mine—a poor man's Xanthorrhoea if you will—I couldn't resist.

Here it is in its new home:


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

More garden beauty to help us through home confinement

I want to continue the theme I started in Monday's post, The garden is giving back when I need it the most, because we need our gardens now more than ever. Feeling stressed—or worse, overwhelmed—seems to be the new normal for many of us. The rational part of our mind knows that this, too, shall pass, but being confronted with so much uncertainty can wear down the strongest of us.

I'm not immune to any of this, but I try hard not to get swept away by the constantly changing news cycles. Focusing on work helps, and there's Tofu, our new canine family member, to take my mind off the headlines. And if all else fails, I step outside into the garden with eyes wide open. There's so much to see right now that it doesn't take long for my mind to recalibrate itself. It would be so much harder to make it through this crisis without the beauty so generously given by the plants we tend.

Bee on Grevillea 'Kings Fire'

Monday, April 20, 2020

The garden is giving back when I need it the most

We take care of our gardens year in and year out. Sometimes, especially when there's a long list of chores to do, it seems like the work never ends.

But remember that this is a two-way street: Whatever we give to the garden, the garden gives back—with interest. We invest time, effort and money, and the garden rewards us with beauty.

Beauty may be a simple six-letter word, but like most simple things, it's a powerful force.

Agave ovatifolia and Alyogyne 'Ruth Bancroft'

In times of turmoil, the garden can help us escape reality, if ever so briefly, refocus, and recharge our mental batteries. In short: It can help us stay sane.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Jeanne Meadow's San Diego County garden—back

In part 1 of this post, I showed you the front garden of Jeanne Meadow's estate in Fallbrook north of San Diego. As beautiful as the front garden is, I think the back garden is even more stunning although the landscaped square footage is much smaller.

Looking at the back of the house through the lacy foliage of Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle):


Turn 180° and you see an agave-studded hillside:


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Jeanne Meadow's San Diego County garden—front

While travel and garden tours are temporarily on hold because of COVID-19, that doesn't mean we can't do it virtually. Today I want to take you to Fallbrook in the northern part of San Diego County, the self-proclaimed “Avocado Capital of the World”.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the garden of Jeanne Meadow. This is a garden in the grand sense of the word—an estate, really, occupying multiple hillside acres. Jeanne and her husband Barry use the lower 2+ acres for themselves and lease out the avocado orchard which occupies the upper portion of their property.

I was invited to Jeanne's garden as part of the Succulent Fanatics, a Facebook group started by San Jose-based Laura Balaoro whose members occasionally meet up in person, typically during a public succulent event. In this case, the occasion was the 2018 Succulent Celebration organized by and held at Waterwise Botanicals Nursery in Bonsall.

Being part of a large group of like-minded gardening folks, I was trying to have a conversation or two while taking photos. At times, one (the photos) or the other (the conversations) suffered, but I did end up taking a lot of pictures.


This post is about the front garden; part two is about the back.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

My haul from Annie's Annuals (4/4/20)

As you might have read in my previous post, I went to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA last Saturday. Properly gloved and masked and observing social distancing protocols, I slowly wandered through the nursery, loading my cart with plants that were on my wish list as well as some others that caught my eye.

The Agave colorata in the photo below falls into the “caught my eye” category. I've had many Agave colorata over the years, but virtually all over them turned out to be rather generic-looking. The search for the perfect Agave colorata is ongoing: I'm looking for one that doesn't pup excessively, has a symmetrical rosette, and features pronounced banding. It exists; the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson had one a few years ago.

I picked out the Agave colorata seedling below from about three dozen because it has a symmetrical rosette, wide leaves, well-developed marginal teeth, and a twisted terminal spine. I'm hoping this will turn into a beautiful swan someday.

Agave colorata

Monday, April 6, 2020

Annie's Annuals mental-health outing

California continues to be under a shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I work at home, my life during the week hasn't changed all that much. It's on the weekends that I notice the restrictions the most. It's not like public life has stopped altogether, but everything requires a lot more planning: Do I have disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and, most recently, my mask? Since I don't go out every day, the new routine hasn't become routine for me, and I hope it won't have to.

Strictly speaking, nursery visits aren't exactly necessary outings. However, I figure anything that improves my mental health is at least somewhat essential. Using that reasoning as an excuse, I made the one-hour drive to Annie's Annuals in Richmond on an eerily un-busy Interstate 80. I knew that Annie's had a solid social distancing protocol in place. Customers are requested to stay 3-6 ft. away from other customers (and staff) as they pass them, and the size of the nursery does allow for that. In the checkout area, belt dividers separate the customers from the employees; cash is not accepted, and you insert your credit card in a reader the employee holds out to you, so your card isn't touched by anybody else.

Another new thing: a couple of handwashing stations at the entrance where customers are requested to wash their hands as they arrive and leave

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sights in the garden that make me feel better

With everything going on in the world and no light yet at the end of the long dark tunnel that is COVID-19, it's a challenge to stay positive. Fortunately, things are a little easier for us gardeners. Sheltering in place, we can quickly step outside and find, if not comfort, then at least distraction in the environment we've created. It may not sound like much, but for me, it's huge. Within a few minutes, I'm usually able to refocus.

Here are some vignettes that caught my eye today:

Vriesea fosteriana 'Red Chestnut'

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Meet Tofu!

On Thursday we welcomed a new family member. Meet Tofu:


Tofu is an American bulldog × Labrador retriever mix. The shelter we adopted him from says he's 4 years old, but we think he may actually be younger.

Tofu is the name the shelter had given him, and it looks that'll be his permanent name (although I've started calling him Tofino). He's a big block of extra firm tofu, that's for sure.

The first thing we noticed when we met him at the shelter was how affectionate he is. That's pretty remarkable, considering the life he must have had (we actually know nothing about his past history). He likes to know where everybody is and checks in periodically. We're giving him all the reassurance he needs in this transition phase.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Life in the time of the coronavirus

I was supposed to be in Phoenix, Arizona last week for the Desert Botanical Garden's big plant sale—think thousands upon thousands of plants to choose from! The day before my flight, however, I decided not to go because the reported number of coronavirus cases was growing exponentially and the risk of getting infected at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel, or elsewhere in public seemed too great. In hindsight, that proved to be the right decision because the Desert Botanical Garden ended up canceling the plant sale and California governor Gavin Newsom ordered all residents to shelter in place.

Before we were able to hunker down in Davis, my wife and I made a quick down-and-back trip to Southern California to pick up daughter #2 from college. All her spring quarter classes were moved online, and students were encouraged to leave the dorms.

The freeways were eerily empty. Mostly trucks—actually, a lot of trucks!


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Agave Garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I was going to be in Phoenix, Arizona this week but I had to cancel my plans because of COVID-19. So instead of looking at desert plants in person, I'm catching you up on some of the things I saw on my previous trip in late December 2019.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) in Tucson is a personal favorite. I always make time for a visit, even if it's just for a few hours. A few weeks ago, I wrote about potted specimen plants and the Cactus Garden at the ADSM. Today I want to show you the Agave Garden. It was restored from the ground up a few years ago, with a brand-new artificial rock island in the center that allows even small species to shine.

Agave parrasana in blue pot, Agave nickelsiae on the right, with Agave tequilana in the very back

Monday, March 16, 2020

What's in bloom and other garden sightings, mid-March 2020

I always seem to miss Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, started by Carol “Keeper of the World's Largest Collection of Hoes” Michel of May Dreams Gardens, but this month I'm reasonably close.

🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕 🎕

The aloes are continuing their winter flower fest. Many of them are past their peak, but they're still pretty even now. A few Australian natives are contributing to this month's Bloom Day as well. We finally had some rain, so who knows what might develop in the weeks ahead!

Flowers or not, this is one my favorite vignettes in the garden

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Colorful plastic animals at the Desert Botanical Garden

Question: What did you see at the Desert Botanical Garden?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.
Question: Colorful plastic animals?
Answer: Colorful plastic animals.

Yes, indeed. Expect to see lots of colorful plastic animals if you visit the Desert Botanical Gardens (DBG) in Phoenix, AZ between now and May 10, 2020. Depending on how you feel about such things—whether you like art in gardens, how you define art, and what your general preferences are—you may do a happy dance, you may shake your head in disbelief or resignation, or you may actively cuss in disgust.

As a public service, here are lots of photos of lots of colorful plastic animals from my visit to the DBG in late December.

Arguably, the DBG's entrance ramada—usually a dull spot in a garden that's anything but dull— has never looked this lively

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Beginning of the end: Agave 'Mad Cow' starting to bloom

In the olden days, agaves were called “century plants” because people thought it would take a hundred years for them to flower. That's not quite the case, seeing how most agave species flower within 5 to 20 years.

Yet the flowering of an agave is still a bit of an event—one that's as bitter as it's sweet. Agaves have a flair for drama and produce impressive flower stalks. They might be 4 feet tall in a dwarf species like Agave × arizonica, or 25 feet in a giant like Agave salmiana. As a matter of fact, agaves put everything they've got into this undertaking, to the point where's simply nothing left when all is said and done. That's why most agave species die after they've finished flowering.

Agave 'Mad Cow', a hybrid between Agave bovicornuta (the cow's horn agave) and Agave colorata

I may look dorkily cheerful in this photo—it truly is exciting to see such a big flower stalk emerge—but I feel wistful at the same time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

More agave/aloe musical chairs in our garden

This post continues where Propping up a large leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii left off. In fact, in the two photos below, you can see the newly erect aloe in the upper left:

Agave pumila in the center

As I mentioned in my Aloe globuligemma × marlothii post, the next plant I was going to tackle was the Agave pumila nearby, seen in the center and bottom of the two photos above. This agave sustained quite a bit of damage from rot in the extra wet winter of 2016/2017 but pulled through. While I respect its resilience, its time had come—I just wasn't “feeling” it anymore the way I once had. With in-ground real estate at a premium, I've become quite brutal at rotating out plants no longer in favor.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Aloes good enough to eat!

Aloes have a long history of medicinal use, not just where they're native but also elsewhere. Sunburn or minor skin irritation? Aloe gel is the go-to choice for many.

But I didn't know that aloes are also finding their way into foodstuffs. My wife recently surprised me with this:


Intriguing for sure, although one thing made me laugh: “Aloe Vera flavored.” Tasting of what, exactly, other than green and possibly grassy?

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Propping up a large leaning Aloe globuligemma × marlothii

It turns out that people aren't the only ones starting to lean at they get older. Some aloes are, too. At least this one is, and it's not even that old. It's been in the ground for just a little over four years; check out how small it was when I planted it in February 2016!

According to Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson, Arizona where I bought it in a 4-inch pot, Aloe globuligemma × marlothii is a “natural hybrid between two widely distributed Aloes in eastern South Africa. The seeds were collected near Lebowakgomo, South Africa.” Aloe globuligemma, the purported seed parent, is not a very large plant, but Aloe marlothii, the daddy, certainly is. And this baby here is the spitting image of its daddy, although there's still a good chance that momma's genes will express themselves in the flowers.

As baby was putting on size and weight, gravity started to pull it forward, down the slight incline it's planted on. While I don't mind the way it looks, I want it to grow upright so its stem will be straight.

Aloe globuligemma × marlothii

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Echinocereus cactus bowl looking better than new after renovation

Few things make you realize how fast time goes by than the growth of plants. Not that we're always aware of it. Growth is gradual, and often we don't notice how much bigger a plant has gotten until the scales fall off our eyes and we go, whoa, how come I didn't notice that before?

Take a look at the 22-inch terracotta bowl below. I'm happy with everything in it except for one thing. And that one thing has been bothering me a great deal since the OCD region of my brain has latched on to it: the agave clump you see on the right. It's Agave toumeyana var. bella, a dwarf variety found in a few mountainous locations in south-central Arizona. 

With its white markings and curling leaf threads, it's a nice-looking plant. However, as you can see, it's taken over a good chunk of real estate in the bowl already and is sending out pups on ever longer rhizomes. Time to intervene.


Friday, February 28, 2020

Explore UC Davis plant treasures with author Jeff Moore

This week, Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents was in town to promote his new book Spiny Succulents (read my review here). He gave a presentation to the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society on Monday evening, following a string of similar talks in the Bay Area. Since Jeff stayed with us, I got to hang out with him and pepper him with questions. He's a modest guy, but he knows his stuff!

I took Jeff over to the UC Davis campus both on Monday and on Tuesday. On Monday, we dropped in on Ernesto Sandoval at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, who showed us some treasures in the greenhouses and outside. On Tuesday, Jeff and I walked around the UC Davis Arboretum, and like so many out-of-town visitors who have low expectations when they come to Davis, he was amazed that we have such a wonderful resource.

In general, Jeff was very surprised by the kinds of plants we can grow outside, including many aloes such as the Aloidendron dichotomum below.

Jeff Moore and a perfectly shaped Aloidendron dichotomum in a teenage package growing in the cycad garden at UC Davis

Here are some photos I took while out exploring with Jeff.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Aloes flowering at the Ruth Bancroft Garden right now

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend an aloe tour at the Ruth Bancroft Garden led by curator Brian Kemble. In his long career as a plantsman and on many trips to succulent hot spots like Mexico, South Africa, and Madagascar, Brian has amassed an encyclopedic knowledge he's always willing to share. To a plant nerd like me, Brian is a superstar, and I embrace every opportunity I get to learn from him.

This year, Brian will celebrate his 40th anniversary working at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. I believe he was the first “real” employee Ruth Bancroft hired for her garden. Working side by side with Ruth, both literally and figuratively, Brian played an instrumental role in shaping the garden. In fact, I think it's fair to say that without Brian, his expertise, and his commitment, the RBG would not be what it is today.

Brian, a world-renowned aloe expert and hybridizer, knows every aloe in the garden—where it comes from, what growing conditions it prefers, and what its idiosyncrasies are. Since the tour on Saturday lasted only an hour, there was only so much territory Brian was able to cover. Obviously, the focus was on the species that are currently in flower, but there are so many other aloes in the garden. Maybe some day the RBG will have an in-depth aloe tour; I'm ready to invest a morning or an afternoon!

Brian Kemble talking about Aloe rubroviolacea in the foreground

See what's blooming in the Ruth Bancroft Garden right now.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Aloes aloes

As you know from this post published in mid-January, I've been wishing for more sun and warmer temperatures so the flowers on our aloes would finally open up. This winter hasn't been particular cold—only one night where the temperature briefly dropped below freezing—but we've had a surprising number of gray days in the 40s. No sun and hence no warmth from the fireball in the sky threw everything, not just the aloes, into a seemingly interminable holding pattern.

Finally, this past week has been sunny and warm—nicely warm. And to everyone's delight, our aloes are responding. Take a look!

Aloe 'Tangerine', planted just two years ago, has turned into a real beauty. It's thought to be a cross between Aloe arborescens and Aloe ferox.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Cactus Garden at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Cacti are a staple of the plant life at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM), seeing how it's smack in the middle of the Sonora Desert. As a visitor, you have plenty of opportunity to see cacti no matter where you go in the park. But there's once place no cactophile should miss: the Cactus Garden. It's small, essentially just a loop trail, but it has almost 140 different species.

The Cactus Garden was dedicated in 1965 in honor of John Haag, curator of plants at the ASDM from 1957 to 1959. Haag founded the Tucson Cactus Club (now the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society) in 1960, and volunteers from the TCSS have helped maintain and improve it ever since. Here is an interesting article about the 50th anniversary of the Cactus Garden and how it has evolved over the years.

Just like the Agave Garden (the subject of a future post), the Cactus Garden is destination I return to on every visit to the ASDM. Not only is it full of special plants, they're staged beautifully. Here is an interactive map of the plantings.

Opuntia engelmannii and Ferocactus diguetii

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Potted perfection at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

An after-Christmas road trip to Arizona seems to have become a tradition for me. And part of the tradition is a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) west of Tucson. You'd think I'd get tired of it, but it's like catching up with a good friend: many things are the same, but there's always something new and surprising.

I'll have separate posts on the Cactus Garden and the Agave Garden at the ASDM, the latter having undergone a complete overhaul in the last few years. This post focuses on the plantings at the cluster of buildings in the northeast corner of the park: the Ironwood Art Gallery, Ironwood Terraces Restaurant, and Baldwin Education Building. The stucco walls are a great backdrop for potted specimens, as you will see below. The landscaping here is a great match for the contemporary architecture of the buildings. If I had a house in Tucson, I'd be tempted to simply recreate this design. It's simple, clean, and cool.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) against the gray stucco exterior of the Baldwin Education Building

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

John Miller's aloe wonderland in Oakland

John Miller is the president of the Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS), a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of the genus Aloe. The IAS propagates a large variety of aloe species, many of them hard to find, and sells them through their web site. The plants are grown in a greenhouse at the Oakland Zoo and in John's personal garden.

I saw John's garden for the first time in December 2018, and this January I was lucky enough to visit on two different occasions. This post combines photos I took two weeks apart.

Bi-colored Aloe ferox [South Africa], a real beauty

John has a ½ acre hillside lot with panoramic vistas of Oakland and San Francisco Bay. His aloe collection is one of the largest in the country and includes many rare species from areas other than South Africa (Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Madagascar). John has seen many species in habitat, most recently on a trip to Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Oakland has the ideal climate for growing aloes since winter lows rarely fall below freezing and summer highs rarely climb beyond the 90s. In contrast, Davis, just a little over an hour away, is colder in the winter and hotter in the summer, making gardening just a bit more challenging.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Visiting Jeff Moore's Arid Adaptations Nursery in Tucson, Arizona

My first Tucson stop on my recent Arizona trip was at Arid Adaptions Nursery at the foot of the Tucson Mountains. Owner Jeff Moore grows a wide variety of succulents on his 3-acre property—far more species than I'd realized. He sells them at farmers markets in the Tucson area, to private collectors, and to wholesalers in Tucson and Phoenix. (To clear up potential confusion, Arid Adaptation's Jeff Moore and Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents Nursery in north San Diego County are two different people and not related.)

As I was driving to Jeff's place, the sky was filled with the big puffy clouds I so love:


Getting closer:


Saturday, January 18, 2020

All our aloes want is some ☀️

The first two weeks of January have been unpleasantly damp and chilly here in the Sacramento Valley. Today, the sun has been making a valiant effort to warm things up, but a thin layer of clouds is keeping temperatures in check.

All I want is a few days of unadulterated sunshine. I'm not alo(n)e in this: Our aloes have been in a holding pattern for weeks now. They need a good spell of afternoon highs in the 60s to kick the flowering action into high gear. On the positive side—at least as far as aloe flowers are concerned—we haven't had enough rain to cause the ends of the immature inflorescences to rot. In fact, our rainfall has been modest since the official start of winter.

Here are the aloes in our garden that are waiting for warmer weather. Without it, they'll continue to sulk. And so will I.

Aloe 'Tangerine'

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tohono Chul Park: one of Tucson's must-see destinations for succulent lovers

One of the places I visit regularly when I'm in Tucson, Arizona is Tohono Chul Park. It doesn't have the name recognition of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and because of that it's far less overrun. In fact, every time I've been there, I've been one of only a handful of visitors (the fact that I usually go right when they open at 8 a.m. might have something to do with it).

There are many reasons I like Tohono Chul. It's in Tucson, one of my favorite places in the world, and it combines both the natural desert environment and man-made elements, such as a series of compact demo gardens showcasing desert-appropriate landscaping in residential settings. And it has a small but well-stocked nursery which offers everything from travel-sized souvenir cacti for tourists to unusual succulents for collectors to perennials, shrubs and trees for local homeowners.


I've taken so many photos of Tohono Chul over the years that I'm afraid I might begin to repeat myself—not that that's an issue unless you look at my old posts side by side. But it's very easy for me to get swept away by the beauty of the place. When that happens and I'm in the “zone,” I let myself go with the flow and respond to what I see before me. Getting lost like that is the thing I look forward to the most when I visit the desert.

Speaking of the desert, this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, perfectly expresses how I feel. Saint-Exupéry was referring to the Sahara, not the Sonoran Desert, but the magnetic pull is the same.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Plant haul from my December 2019 Arizona trip

One of my great passions in life is traveling. Don't get me wrong—I love being at home, too, but the pull to see other places never quite goes away. In German, there's a great word for this: Fernweh. It literally means “far-ache.” The “ache” part is the same as in “toothache:” a pain that is persistent and all-encompassing. The German language definitely has a knack for coining simple words that express complex emotions!

While I enjoy travel no matter what form it takes, I do prefer driving over flying. When you look at the photos below, you'll understand why. Other people bring home coffee mugs or tea towels as souvenirs, I come back with plants and rocks.

Trunk of our Toyota Prius after my recent Arizona trip. The bare spot on the left was where my clothes bag had been.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Succulents and More on Instagram

Some of you may be following Succulents and More on Instagram already. If you aren't, below are some examples of what you're missing. These are images I posted on Instagram during and after my recent Arizona trip. Some of them may eventually make it into regular blog posts, but most will only appear on Instagram.

My Instagram user name is succulentsandmore.

See you there!




Friday, January 3, 2020

Highlights from my 2019 after-Christmas Arizona trip

I just got back from another awesome after-Christmas desert road trip with a couple of thousand photos—memories that will sustain me until next Christmas when I'll do it all over again.

OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that a few plants and rocks came home with me, too. And another metal mariachi musician, a younger brother to the two that have taken up residence in our front yard.

I'll have many posts in the weeks and months to come. For now, here's a random jumble of snapshots that capture the highlights of my trip. Consider it an appetizer.

Highway 247, western San Bernardino County, California; my trusty steed on the right