Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mariel's collector garden: succulents, pots, fairies and goblins

Visits to private gardens have been few and far between this year, but on Saturday I had the opportunity to visit the garden of Mariel Dennis, the President of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). I'd last seen Mariel's garden in June 2017, and I was eager to find out what had changed.

In a nutshell: Mariel has greatly increased her collection of potted succulents. I don't think I've ever seen a private garden with as many potted specimens. I was joking that one might think they've walked into an upscale garden shop where rare plants were sold in matching pots. 

Mariel is a serious collector, but she has a sense of humor and a taste for the whimsical:

I had so much fun exploring Mariel's garden and collection that I took 200+ photos. Even with rigorous editing, that leaves too many images for one post, so I'll have two: one about the area marked #1 in the satellite image below, and the other about the area marked #2:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mid-year reality check

Gardening is fun, at least most of the time. But many things are out of our control, and we simply have to accept the fact that s*#t happens. Especially in the year 2020 which seems doggedly determined to wobble from bad to worse. 

As if COVID-19 weren't enough, we just went through the most oppressive heat wave in years. And now California is burning: 300+ wildfires caused by lightning strikes combined with extreme dryness. Davis is not in any danger, but a pall of smoke has been hanging in the air for almost a week, leading to apocalyptic-looking skies and very unhealthy air.

Early evening sky from our front yard

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

UC Davis Arboretum in the midday sun

It turns out it's not only Englishmen and mad dogs who go out in the midday sun. I did, too, on Sunday when it was 102°F out. It started out as a joke with my wife and daughter, but then it became a dare, and I simply couldn't back down. That's how I found myself on the UC Davis campus at 12:30pm with the sun beating down on me.

I only lasted for 45 minutes, but I managed to check on a few things, including the Arboretum Teaching Nursery where the plant sales are held: usually three in the spring and three in the fall. In a normal year, that is. In 2020, all plant sales have been canceled—just another nail in the coffin of this terrible year. In the meantime, the 50,000+ sale plants in the nursery are being cared for by a skeleton crew. They'll be extra large next year when (knock on wood!) the plant sales will resume.


Me longingly peeking through the chain-link fence into the nursery:

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Gravity always wins

The flower stalk of the Agave parrasana along the sidewalk is now close to 7 ft. tall. Impressive for sure, but that's not the focus of this post. Instead, look at the aloe to the left of the agave:


That's the real news. At some point in the last few days, gravity finally won out and caused the top-heavy Aloe ferox to topple over. Even though its leaves had become fairly desiccated in recent weeks, it was still a big guy. 

For comparison, here's a photo from mid-March 2020 when this Aloe ferox was in bloom and the leaves were fat and juicy:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Up, up, and away!

While some plants prefer to lay low in the summer heat, others shift into high gear. Here are a few prime examples of the latter, all from our garden.

The Agave parrasana next to the sidewalk has been busy pumping energy into its asparagus-like flower stalk. It's now taller the 6 ft. fence behind it.

Aloe ferox (left), Agave parrasana (middle) and Aloidendron 'Hercules' (right)

Agave parrasana is native to the Parras Mountains in the southeast of the Mexican state of Coahuila, about 300 miles south of the Texas border, where it grows at 4,500 to 8,000 ft. Since the winters can be frigid, the flower stalk of Agave parrasana emerges during summer and early fall and then stops for the cold season. Thick bracts protect the immature flowers against freeze damage. The following spring, the inflorescence completes its growth, with flowers emerging from side branches off the stalk.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Depupping ‘White Rhino’

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae) is arguably one of the most beautiful and therefore most popular agaves. There are many different forms:  the all-green standard form with a varying number of white markings; several selections with yellow variegation; and a few clones with white variegation. The latter are quite rare, and hence highly sought after. 

One of the white-variegated forms is called ‘White Rhino’. It has off-white stripes on the outside and green in the middle. (A form called 'Mediopicta Alba' has the reverse: white in the center, green along the margins.)

I bought a ‘White Rhino’ offset a number of years ago—seven? eight?—and it's grown slowly but steadily. A speed demon it ain't, but few agaves are. 

On the upside, my ‘White Rhino’ has produced a handful of pups, and I finally decided to remove them so they can start life on their own (and hopefully make their own babies eventually).
Agave victoria-reginae ‘White Rhino’, about 7½ inches across

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Repotting in my favorite new soil blend

Plants often let us know what they need. All we have to do is look. Some cases are more transparent than others, but it doesn't get more obvious than this:

Acanthocereus rosei, a scrambling/climbing cactus from Mexico with beautiful flowers

This used to be a perfectly square pot. Doesn't look so regular anymore, does it? 

The ripples and bulges aren't caused by the plastic melting in the sun. It's the plant telling me it wants a bigger place to live. And here it is:

Saturday, August 1, 2020

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, summer 2020: a bit of Australia/NZ and Africa

This is part 2 of my recent visit to the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, you need to make a reservation before you can visit the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG). My reservation was for 2:30 pm so I only had 2½ hours until closing—not a lot of time, considering the garden is a sprawling 34 acres in size. My friends Max and Justin and I focused on the Mexico & Central America Collection, but on the way there, we walked by the Australasia Collection. Among many things, it contains beautiful specimens from Australia, like these Tasmanian tree ferns:

Tasmanian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica)

More tree ferns are in the Cycad & Palm Garden surrounding the Conference Center and Tropical House, but that section is closed (unfortunately) because the paths there are narrow and social distancing would be difficult. I was disappointed because it's one my favorite spots at the UCBG.