2020 in review: July—September

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Continuing the year in review...


Back to the Ruth Bancroft Garden for a change of scenery. It's an easy 60-minute drive, and the therapeutic value is priceless.

Leucadendron 'Ebony' next to a large Agave ovatifolia

Erythrina × bidwillii and Agave montana

The pieces for the 2020 Sculpture in the Garden exhibit had just been set up. This was my favorite entry: “Reeds” by Jeff Owens ($1800). It's an array of metal rods welded to a base. They're thin enough to move in the wind, creating a subtle interplay of movement and sound.

Aloe and eucalyptus

Agave ocahui doing the praying hands thing

Agave bracteosa flower stalk with hundreds upon hundreds of individual flowers

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was closed longer than many other public gardens in California because it's on the campus of UC Berkeley and therefore subject to the university's own regulations. I visited in late June and was joined by my Oakland friends Max and Justin.

World-famous clump of hedgehog agave (Agave stricta) next to the tour deck

Agave “sp.” (always my favorite label) and Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata ssp. aztecorum)

Bench surrounded by Puya coerulea

Dudleya brittonii

Gunnera tinctoria

This is what I posted in early July: “One week ends and another begins, but both seem the same. It's that sameness that's beginning to get to me.” That remained true for the rest of year. One way to deal with it: buying more plants. I certainly did! 

×Mangave 'Tooth Fairy' (Agave macroacantha and Agave shawii crossed with a purple-spotted Manfreda)

Puya coerulea var. coerulea, the truly silver clone from San Marcos Growers


In August, 300+ wildfires erupted in Northern California, caused by lightning strikes combined with extreme dryness. We weren't in any danger, but a pall of smoke hung in the air for many days, leading to apocalyptic-looking skies and very unhealthy air.

Early evening sky from our front yard

Daytime highs of 105°F or above combined with hot nights took its toll in our garden. The loss I mourn the most is this monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). I bought it as a small seedling at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden years ago, and it was perfectly healthy until the heat came. Now it's toast.

Agave parrasana started to push a flower stalk. Aloe ferox to the left of it fell over for no apparent reason. Up and down, so it goes.

Visits to private gardens had been few and far between this year, but 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.

Mariel loves these rolling stainless steel racks for her potted succulents

Aeoniums in matching square pots

Collection of cactus in a variety of glazed pots

×Mangave 'Desert Dragon'

Agave parviflora 'Pinpoint', a rare variegated miniature agave

A quick outing to the UC Davis Arboretum made me realize once again how lucky I am to be living so close to such a beautiful public space:

Another outing to the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden took me back to the New World Desert and the South African Collection:

New World Desert

An iconic view: Agave filifera, Agave parryi var. huachucensis and Agave xylonacantha

Agave parryi var. huachucensis and Agave filifera

Mammillaria compressa

Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

The Plant Deck at the entrance is currently closed, but a good selection of plants is available on the Tour Deck

Two Encephalartos lehmannii, the one of the left has newer leaves that look much bluer

Euphorbia clavaroides


The wildfires continued into September. We were safe, but the hazy skies had an apocalyptic quality.

I made a quick trip to Martinez to pick up some plants from my friend Troy McGregor, former nursery manager at the Ruth Bancroft Garden and now a busy landscape designer. I didn't stay long because the air quality was bad, but I couldn't help taking some photos of the latest changes in his personal garden:

New in Troy's backyard: a chicken coop with a green roof

Tall planters with Euphorbia lambii as vertical accents 

Masterfully layered planting against the front of the house. The aloe is 'Erik the Red', the silvery plant behind it Senecio decaryi.

Dyckias, aechmeas, and echeverias

September didn't see much activity in the garden, but I finally put one of my favorite cacti in the ground, a Ferocactus rectispinus with 6-inch spines:

In September, we took our daughter back to university in Southern California. I managed to carve out some time for a few garden and nursery outings. This included a visit to the garden of blogger Hoover Boo, the author of the Piece of Eden blog:  

Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak' and Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Front slope plantings

Agaves and aloes

After we were done at Hoover Boo's garden, we walked over to her friend Kay's. Kay's 3/4-acre garden is mature and full of the kinds of plants that sing to me:

One Aloe marlothii and many Agave attenuata

Can a succulent-filled garden be any more beautiful?

I also managed a quick stop at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar:

All public garbage cans should be so beautiful!

Special display about mangaves

Agave attenuata and Arbutus 'Marina'

One of the most ambitious living walls I've seen in a while

I had a full day to visit three destinations in northern San Diego County. My first stop was at Hidden Agave Ranch, a 7½ acre hillside property north of Escondido. It's the home and garden of agave hybridizer Jeremy Spath. As an agave lover, I was in heaven!

Agave seemaniana

Jeremy also has a large greenhouse which houses both his personal collection and the agaves he grows for sale:

Agave desmettiana with even better variegation than 'Joe Hoak' and Agave albopilosa

Agave victoriae-reginae × guadalajarana 

Stop #2 was at Rancho Soledad Nursery, which grows everything from agaves and aloes to palm trees and cycads on its sprawling 25-acre grounds. I got a personal tour by my friend Ryan Penn who now works in propagation and sales.

Hundreds of agaves growing in the Southern California sun

Looking down at one of the many shade houses

Agave ovatifolia 'Orca' and Agave 'Blue Glow' 

Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Agave wonderland

My final stop of the day was at Solana Succulents, Jeff Moore's nursery in the beach town of Solana Beach. It's always great to catch up with Jeff and poke around the nooks and crannies of his eclectic collection. 

Aloidendron barberae and several massive cactoid euphorbias, including Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata', growing right in the middle of the nursery

Jeff had just picked up a batch of Dudleya brittonii from a backyard grower. I couldn't resist.

Hechtia argentea in one of the display plantings

Masks and social distancing aside, my visit with Jeff almost felt like the good old days pre-COVID. 

On to the final installment of this recap: October—December.


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  1. If I were just paging through and not reading your text (and completely unaware) I'd think you had a pretty fantastic year!

  2. You may have had fewer trips this year than usual but you made great use of those you took! You've officially been to Roger's Garden more times than I have this year.

  3. You did some excellent socially distant visiting Gerhard . I have to say yours was the only private garden I visited this year-I sure am looking forward to plain old normal.

  4. Ironic but when you look back you realize you did do quite a bit. I think the real bonus from this year (the only one) was the ability to put so much work into our own gardens. The photo or the Kumara had me drooling. Have never seen one so big.


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