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.

As you can imagine, there's a lot to see in John's garden. If I'd wanted to photograph every single aloe species he has, I'd still be there. What you see in this post is a “best of” collection, but there are still more than 75 images. We'll start at the top (literally) in the front garden and work our way down to the greenhouse at the bottom of the property.

Inside from the street-side fence

Cuttings of Aloe pearsonii, a distinctive and sought-after species from the Richtersveld on the border between South Africa and Namibia

The big beauty is Aloe schoelleri [Eritrea]

Aloe schoelleri [Eritrea] with Aloe decurva [Mozambique] on the right

Aloe schoelleri [Eritrea]

Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa] watching over this aloe bed

Middle: cliff-dwelling Aloe hardyii [South Africa]

RIGHT: Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]  LEFT: Aloe pulcherrima [Ethiopia]

Aloe andongensis [Angola]

Aloe chabaudii [Zimbabwe]

Aloe broomii var. tarkaensis [South Africa]

The tall aloe is Aloe helenae [Madagascar]

The tall flowering aloes are Aloe rivieri [Yemen]

A strikingly beautiful selection of Echeveria colorata [Mexico]

Aloe pearsonii [South Africa/Namibia] growing behind Echeveria colorata [Mexico]


LEFT: Aloe microstigma [South Africa]   RIGHT: Aloe cooperi [South Africa]

One of many—dozens—of rubber ducks hiding in aloes all over John's gardens. You know what to get him if you ever need a host gift!

Looking down towards the greenhouse and San Francisco Bay in the distance

John Miller (right) and John Becker (left), my partner-in-crime on my first visit this January

Aloe barbara-jeppeae [South Africa]

Flowering: Aloe castanea [South Africa]

More rubber ducks!

Visit #2: Justin Thiel (standing) and John Miller (leaning over)


Aloe speciosa [South Africa]

Dudleyas growing in a sea of aeoniums

Aloe alooides [South Africa]

Another rubber duck sighting

Looking towards the house

LEFT: Aloe rupestris [South Africa]   RIGHT: Aloidendron sabaeum [Yemen, Saudi Arabia]

The ice-blue cycad is Encephalartos horridus from South Africa, next to it a Dudleya pulverulenta from Southern California

Dudleya nestled up against a log of petrified wood

Beautifully staged Dudleya amidst pieces of petrified wood

Aloe brevifolia var. depressa [South Africa]

The creeping aloe is Aloe rubroviolaceae [Yemen, Saudi Arabia]

Aloe ferox [South Africa] forest

Yellow-flowering Aloe ferox

Bi-colored red and white Aloe ferox

I really want one like this!

John Miller and Justin Thiel in the Aloe ferox forest


These Aloe ferox flowers are a darker red than usual


CENTER: variegated Aloe vaombe [Madagascar]

Rare variegated Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]

Variegated Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]

Looking toward the greenhouse and Oakland beyond

Aloe rupestris [South Africa]

Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe, Mozambique]

Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe, Mozambique]

Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe, Mozambique]

Aloe monticola [Ethiopia]

Aloe lukeana [Uganda] flowering since October and Aloe ankoberensis (blue-green) [Ethiopia]

Aloe lukeana [Uganda]

Aloe lukeana [Uganda] and Aloe ankoberensis [Ethiopia]

Aloe ankoberensis [Ethiopia]

Aloe pulcherrima [Ethiopia]

Aloe pulcherrima [Ethiopia]

Aloe arborescens [South Africa]

Aloe thraskii [South Africa]

Aloe thraskii [South Africa]


Potted Aloidendron ramosissimum [South Africa] on the deck

Aloe ferox [South Africa]

Aloe ciliaris [South Africa]

Aloe arborescens and Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa]

LEFT: Aloe pseudorubroviolaceae [Saudi Arabia]

Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]

A distinctive California native from the Channel Islands: giant coreopsis (Leptosyne gigantea, previously Coreopsis gigantea)

The greenhouse is packed with thousands of potted aloes. It would take a day to photograph and identify them all. Here are just a few standouts:


The tall aloes are Aloe vaotsanda from Madagascar, the yellow flowers are from Aloe fievetii, also from Madagascar

Aloe pirottae [Ethiopia]

Aloe pirottae [Ethiopia]

Aloe pirottae [Ethiopia]

Aloe cryptoflora [Madagascar]

Aloe omavandae [Namibia]

Aloe mitsioana [Madagascar]

Aloe irafensis [Yemen]

Aloe pachydactylus [Madagascar]

Aloe pachydactylus [Madagascar], my new aloe crush

Aloe viguieri [Madagascar]

Aloe viguieri [Madagascar]

Rat damage: an unexpected sight that's both maddening and saddening

John has set up traps and thinks the rats are gone now. Fingers crossed!

A big thank you to John Miller for letting me visit twice in two weeks!

If you like aloes and want to branch out beyond the few species commonly sold in nurseries, take a look at what's available through the Institute for Aloe Studies. This is not merely a courtesy plug; I've bought from John several times now and couldn't have been happier with the plants. Here is my original post about the IAS and my first mail-order experience.


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7 comments:

  1. Wow! The world of Aloes is so much larger than I envisioned (even based on your prior posts). That blue-ish Aloe pachydactylus is indeed gorgeous and I can understand your affection for it. While I've never considered myself a big cycad fan, I find myself coveting that blue Encephalartos horridus.

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  2. Amazing collection! Thanks for listing the native locations along with their names. The Institute has so many available too. A question for you about your own Aloe Tangerine that you wrote about recently. How big do you expect it to grow? With ferox and aborescens as parents, it could be huge. Just wondering about your own experience. I'm trying to decide if my small garden could handle one. Just saw a beauty for sale, so am tempted.

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  3. Wow! John has so many aloes. Beautiful with all their blooms. Wondering if there are any other variegated aloes? I have a yellow unidentified variegate (in a pot) that looks very similar to the A. powysiorum. What's the story behind the ducks?

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  4. Overwhelming is a word that comes to mind, as I know nothing about Aloes and never suspected there were so many. For an aficionado such as yourself, these visits must have been pure joy. The Aloe munch "tree" is a stunner.

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  5. Wow, that's a lot of aloes, and a lot of ducks. Why do most of the ducks have letters on their chest?

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  6. Aloe pachydactylus is my new Aloe crush, too. What a wonderful garden! Surprised by rat damage, tho here they have avocados and citrus to prefer.

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