John Miller's fabulous aloe garden (January 2021)

I don't know how often something has to repeat before it becomes a tradition, but my annual visit to John Miller's aloe garden in Oakland must be getting close—this is the third year in a row. If you're interested, here are my posts from December 2018 and January 2020.

John is the president of the Institute for Aloe Studies (IAS), a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of aloes, both in their natural habitats and ex situ in collections. Here is more information about their goals and activities. The IAS propagates a large variety of aloe species and sells them through their web site. The plants are grown in a greenhouse at the Oakland Zoo and in John's personal garden.

John lives on a ½ acre hillside lot with sweeping views of Oakland and San Francisco Bay beyond. His aloe collection is one of the most extensive in the country and includes many rare species from countries other than South Africa (Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Madagascar). John has made several trips to Africa to see aloes in habitat, most recently to Ethiopia.

Like most Bay Area locations, Oakland has a Goldilocks climate that's great for aloes since winter lows rarely fall below freezing and summer highs rarely climb beyond the 90s. Davis is just 75 miles away, but it's colder in the winter, making it tougher to grow more tropical species. On the other hand, true desert species that need heat to thrive are better off in our Sacramento Valley climate.

Below is a perfect example of an aloe species that's on the tender side, Aloe angelica from South Africa. The flowers make it one of the most distinctive of all aloes, but it's more challenging in cultivation than many. In his very useful list of hardy aloes, Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden lists Aloe angelica as hardy to 29°F. It's easy enough to protect it from hard freezes as long as it's small, but covering a larger specimen with frost cloth is not so easy—provided it survives long enough to grow into one.

I'm calling out Aloe angelica because it's such a droolworthy species, yet one that will forever be challenging for me. I do have a small plant in the backyard, maybe a foot tall, but its outlook is uncertain. So for now I will enjoy it in John's garden where it does beautifully.

Aloe angelica [South Africa]

Aloe angelica [South Africa]

Let's take a look at some other notable aloes, starting in the front yard:

Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa] rising from a sea of Aloe powysiorum [Kenya], with bananas and a palm tree behind it

Aloe schoelleri [Eritrea] in the front; Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe] in the back

Aloe schoelleri [Eritrea] with Aloe decurva [Mozambique] on the right

Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe]

 Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]

Wider view of the bed inside the front yard fence

Central mound in the front yard. The tall flowering aloes are Aloe rivieri [Yemen].

Aloe rivieri [Yemen], Aloidendron sabaeum aka Aloe sabaea [Saudi Arabia, Yemen]

Left to right: Aloe rivieri [Yemen], Aloidendron sabaeum [Saudi Arabia, Yemen], Kumara plicatilis [South Africa]

Kumara plicatilis [South Africa] and potted Aloe excelsa [South Africa]

Lower aloe garden with a view of Oakland

Several clones of Aloe ferox [South Africa] in bloom

Aloe ferox blooming in different colors

Aloe khamiesensis [South Africa]

Aloe speciosa [South Africa], close-up of emerging inflorescences

Aloe munchii [Zimbabwe], view of flower from above

Aloe mitriformis

Aloe mawii [Tanzania, Mozambique] with its signature inflorescences emerging almost horizontally

Aloe mawii [Tanzania, Mozambique]

Aloe barbara-jeppeae [South Africa], a species related to A. castanea and A. vryheidensis. It wasn't described until 2013 and is very rare in collections. The species name honors Barbara Jeppe, a South African botanical artist, who illustrated many botanical books over her long career.

Aloe lukeana [Uganda] on the left, Aloe ankoberensis [Ethiopia] on the right

Aloe ankoberensis [Ethiopia]

Aloe arborescens [South Africa]

Aloe arborescens [South Africa], Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa]

Aloe arborescens [South Africa], Aloidendron dichotomum [South Africa]

Aloe pulcherrima [Ethiopia] with a creeping stem

Aloe pseudorubroviolaceae [Saudi Arabia] with a creeping stem similar to A. pulcherrima above

Aloe pseudorubroviolaceae [Saudi Arabia] on the left, Aloe powysiorum [Kenya] on the right

Ultra-rare variegated Aloe powysiorum [Kenya]

Plantings along the fence

Potted Aloidendron ramosissimum aka Aloe ramosissima [South Africa]

Inside the greenhouse: Aloe ericetorum [Madagascar] with its yellow pom-pom flower. The tall aloes to the left are Aloe vaotsanda, also from Madagascar.

Aloe cryptoflora [Madagascar] has one of the most unusual flowers of all aloes, barely emerging from the surrounding bracts

For reasons not even John is entirely sure of, the aloe bloom is a few weeks behind schedule this year. Last year, for example, all the Aloe ferox in his garden were in full flower when I visited; this year, only the bicolored clone was.

As I mentioned earlier, the Institute for Aloe Studies sells a large variety of aloe species through their website. Here's a PDF so you can see everything that's available at a glance. Many of these species are unusual and hard to find; for some of them, the IAS is the only source in the U.S. In addition, the IAS's prices are very reasonable.

If you live in a suitable climate, I encourage you to experiment with some aloes you've never grown before. Talk a walk on the wild (aloe) side in 2021!

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  1. I was just perusing the IAS list the other day. Your posts are so helpful in expediting my selection!

  2. My eyes are crossing at the number of aloes I've never even heard of - and your ability to identify them.

    1. Kris, don't give me too much credit. I made lots of (mental) notes, and I asked John for some IDs later on.

  3. So many aloe. Cool to see some from other parts of Africa.

  4. The banana plant is a Giant Bird of Paradise- native to South Africa. I also notice he prunes tree's like I do...WE NEED THE LIGHT!
    The collection looks great..I see maybe one or two.....hundred, I would like to have!

  5. How is the aloe Angelica doing in your backyard? Still holding up well I hope… I’m thinking of adding this to my collection here in Sacramento but I think that might be pushing it.

    1. My angelica is still alive. It's been in the ground for 3+ years now. It hasn't ground much, probably because it's in too much shade, but it's survived the elements even without protection.


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