2020 mid-year review: what a surreal year!

2020 is only half over, but it's safe to say it'll end up being the strangest year of my life. I bet I'm not the only one who feels like I've fallen through a crack in space-time into a parallel universe. Or maybe it's all a mass hallucination? Or The Truman Show 2.0? 

Whatever it is, I don't like it, and I want my money back!

But no matter how many hissy fits I throw, the new normal is here to stay. And that means more “social distancing” when out and about.

Ruth Bancroft Garden

Not that I have a problem with that per se. I prefer to visit lonely places anyway:

Highway 247, San Bernardino County, California

Unfortunately, I won't be doing much traveling anytime soon. That's been the hardest thing for me to accept since the pandemic began. In light of that, the best I can do is revisit some favorite sights from the last 6+ months. Armchair travel is a cheap form of therapy!

Mission San José de Tumacácori south of Tucson, AZ

I said goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020 on my traditional post-Christmas desert trip to Arizona and Southern California. I've been doing this trip since 2013, and I really don't want to break the pattern in 2020. All I can is keep my fingers crossed!

Prickly pear and ocotillo Mural in Tubac, AZ

Agave parryi

Ferocactus pilosus

Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) at Joshua Tree National Monument, January 1, 2020

Since then, I haven't been able to go on any major trip. It's been frustrating, I won't lie, but it's gotten me to develop a better appreciation for what's right at my doorstep. One example is the UC Davis campus, including the Botanical Conservatory and the Arboretum:

Welwitschia mirabilis at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

Adenium sp. at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory

Aloe marlothii hybrid

Phylica pubescens

Pearl acacia (Acacia podalyriifolia)

I haven't been able to visit many gardens this year, but I did get a chance to catch up with John Miller, president of the Institute for Aloe Studies, in his aloe paradise high above Oakland:

Aloe ferox grove

Aloe pirottae

I also spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon in May with fellow plant nerd Mat McGrath in his garden in the Berkeley Hills: 

Beschorneria albiflora

A wonderful spot to lounge

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, my go-to place when I need a heavy-duty succulent fix, was closed in the early days of the pandemic because of strict shelter-in-place restrictions. I visited right after it reopened in May and then again just a few weeks ago:

Agave franzosinii

Two Australian beauties: Templetonia retusa (in flower) and Grevillea petrophiloides 'Big Bird' (not flowering yet at the time)
Leucospermum 'Blanche Ito'

Agave parrasana

Erythrina × bidwillii and Agave montana

The most pleasant surprise of the pandemic has been the massive upswing in business for nurseries. Who would have thought that people, stuck at home, would turn to plants for comfort! Since nurseries were considered “essential,” they stayed open throughout. 

I did some plant buying myself, and that included two trips to my essential nursery: Annie's Annuals in Richmond. 

Annie's demonstration beds make even Scrooges fall in love with plants

Aloe conifera and Echeveria elegans

Aloe cameronii and Echeveria elegans

Ultimately, though, what has gotten me through the pandemic more than anything else has been our own garden. The work we've done in previous year is now paying off, and there's something exciting to look at almost all the time. 

In the spring it was the aloes:

Aloe 'Erik the Red'

Aloe wickensii

Then came cactus flowers:

Various Echinocereus species and varieties

Softer flowers:

Alyogyne 'Ruth Bancroft' and Agave ovatifolia

Arguably the biggest flower-producing machine in our garden: 'Desert Museum' palo verde

Even when nothing is in flower, the prickly f(r)iends in our garden are always there to cheer me up, including terrestrial bromeliads:

BACK: ×Sincoregelia (intergeneric hybrid between Sincorae and Neoregelia)
FRONT: Deuterocohnia 'Tucumán', possibly an undescribed species from Argentina

Hechtia argentea

These guys brighten my mood, too:

Unfortunately, though, the “bad” days aren't behind us yet:

So if you see me, I'll probably look like this:

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  1. You did get out to different places--way more than I have (okay, that's not saying much). I haven't even been to Roger's Gardens! Many blessings to count, though. Family is well, garden is beautiful, new plants to study--and how is the dog doing?

  2. You've gotten around more than I have! And you have beautiful photographs to show for it. That Aloe marlothii hybrid has me wondering where in heck I might have room to grow one. Maybe I need to make better/different use of my back slope, or at least the area of it I can manage planting without breaking my neck. I've been rethinking much of my garden actually, due partly to more time working in it, partly to the disruptions created by a tunneling gopher, and partly to dissatisfaction with the behavior of selected plants. I might attempt a wholesale makeover, if I can manage access to a broader range of plant sources. Similar to HB, I haven't even been to Roger's since January.

  3. Gorgeous photos Gerhard especially the one of the mission with the stormy sky. I read that people have developed 'covid burnout' which is why so many are not taking the necessary precautions. Easy to be depressed and negative so as I wander the garden instead of looking at what still needs doing I look at what I have accomplished. A better spin for sure.

  4. One benefit of no travel is the extra $$ that I suddenly have for home improvement projects. But it's good you were able to do some discreet travel/field trips in spite of everything. I have been to RBG and Mendo and that's it. I'll bet doing this nice retrospective made you feel a little less shut down.

  5. Your botanical roaming around then blog posts have brought me so much pleasure -- thank you for them and this retrospective! I saw Erik the Red at a nursery recently and paused for a minute, having seen photos of it in your garden. That will have to be enough! Too big for my patch.

  6. Ya, we all look that way nowadays, and I believe masks are here to stay for a while.
    this is a very nice collection of retrospective photos, a trip down memory lane. I remember some from the original posts, and the one that stood out even back then is 'Desert Museum' palo verde. A very happy "sea" of yellow, a feast to my eyes.

  7. I figured out how to subscribe. The screen view on my phone doesn’t show as many options as the web view. Cherry 🍒


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