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

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Regardless of whether this is the last year of the old decade or the first year of the new one, here's wishing all of you a Happy New Year!

There's no better way to kick off the new year than with a photo that celebrates the beauty of nature. I took this panorama just this afternoon (January 1, 2020) at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) in the snow

2020 has quite a ring to it. May it deliver on the promise it holds!