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