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!