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.

I'll keep my comments to a minimum so you can enjoy the photos.

Aloe arborescens (and Agave franzosinii)

Aloe arborescens and a fluffy NOID cactus

The purple-tinged plants in the foreground are Aloe rubroviolaceae

Aloe ferox with orange flowers

Aloe marlothii (in flower), with Aloe 'Hellskloof Bells' (a Brian Kemble hybrid of Aloe pearsonii × Aloe distans on the right)

Aloe marlothii

Aloe marlothii (in flower) and Aloe 'Hellskloof Bells'

Aloe marlothii

Brian Kemble with Aloe 'Hellskloof Bells', his hybrid of Aloe pearsonii × Aloe distans. The taller aloe is Aloidendron dichotomum.

Aloe ferox

Three different forms of Aloe ferox

Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii

Aloe branddraaiensis flowers in front of Agave ovatifolia

The yellow flowers in front of this Agave ovatifolia are from Aloe mudenensis

Aloe karasbergensis (according to Brian Kemble, this species flowers whenever it feels like it)

Aloiampelos tenuior var. rubriflora

Aloe speciosa

Aloe wickensii

Aloe wickensii

Aloe 'Creamsicle' in front of Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Aloe 'Creamsicle' is a Brian Kemble hybrid of the yellow-flowered form of Aloe arborescens and the yellow-flowered form of Aloe ferox. Not in commercial cultivation, it's only found at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Maybe we'll see it in tissue culture some day!

The building you see in the upper left is the new Visitor and Education Center

Aloe arborescens

Aloe 'Tangerine'

Aloe 'Tangerine'

Candelabrum form of Aloe ferox

White-flowered form of Aloe ferox

White-flowered form of Aloe ferox

According to Brian, the only way you get white-flowered seedlings is to cross-pollinate two white-flowered Aloe ferox

Aloe flexilifolia × rubroviolaceae (Brian Kemble hybrid)

Aloidendron eminens

Aloe sabaea

Aloe petrophila

At the end of the tour, each participant received a small Aloe petrophila grown by Brian from seed collected from the plant in the photo above. Plants make the best kind of souvenir, especially when they're so closely tied to a place you love!

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  1. Stunning photos of gorgeous plants. This garden is so high on my bucket list to visit.

  2. Missed Brian's tour, but I did my own the weekend prior at the plant sale.
    (Went to the sale hoping to pick up Aloe Hellskloof Bells, but decided it wasn't in my price range... :(
    That Aloe Marlothii was especially fiery. Almost tropical-looking. Gorgeous!!!

    1. You can find 'Hellskloof Bells' at local cactus and succulent society sales. I got one for under $10 once.

  3. Thanks for the show! I join you in wishing some of RBG's rarer specimens make it into cultivation someday.

  4. The RBG is looking splendid, and BK is a treasure. Thanks sharing a great hour.

  5. Oh my gosh, how gorgeous! I love the RBG, and don't get to go nearly enough. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Come up to Northern California! Would love to show you my garden, too.

  6. Amazing to see a colony of H. Bells! My little singleton has been slow to bulk up. What a sight with all those aloes in bloom. Agave ovatifolia in particular seems to have the size and heft to pair beautifully with them.

    1. My oldest 'Hellskloof Bells' has never flowered, but last year my youngest one did. Go figure!

  7. Wonderful recap Gerhard, and what a "door-prize!" Brian was so helpful as far as ID's on plants in the RBG photos I selected for my book, I really appreciated his knowledge and willingness to share it.

    1. Brian's brain needs to be uploaded into the cloud. I know, creepy thought, but necessary, ha ha.

  8. Now I need to get out there ASAP. Thanks for the heads up!


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