A few good things to brighten the mood

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some pretty unpleasant stuff: frost damage, our palo verde getting blown over, thieves stealing two rare agaves, and losing another tree because of excessive rain and high winds.

I was going to post another damage assessment today but then I realized that I—and probably you—weren’t quite ready for that yet. So I decided to do a complete 180 and focus on the good things happening in the garden right now. Yes, there are quite a few.

Let’s dive right in!

Veltheimia capensis and ×Mangave ‘Red Wing’

The sand lilies (Veltheimia capensis) are in full bloom now. This South African bulb prefers full sun; mine is in the warmest spot I have. It goes completely dormant in the summer and comes back every fall. I started out with just one bulb (and one flower), now there are seven. They don’t multiply super quickly, but they do multiply.

There’s a second species in the genus Veltheimia, the forest lily (V. bracteata). It’s actually much more common in cultivation here in California than V. capensis. V. bracteata prefers to grow in semi shade or even full shade and can remain in leaf all year round if it has enough water.

Veltheimia capensis

The Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’ in the next photo is so big now that it’s extending into the sidewalk. I really should move it, but a) I love this combination with Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’, and b) it may bloom and die soon anyway. What to do...

Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’

Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia ‘Bright Star’ has finished flowering, and I cut off the flower stalk on Saturday. It looks as glorious as ever, but I’m worried it might split into multiple heads, like yuccas are wont to do after flowering. I don’t want to lose the perfect symmetry of the rosette.

Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia ‘Bright Star’

There’s a lot going on in the next photo, but focus on the shrub in the middle.

It’s Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’, a manzanita hybrid of unknown parentage that spontaneously emerged at the Ruth Bancroft Garden many years ago. Here is a photo of the mother plant. Our plant is a cutting from the Ruth Bancroft Garden; they actively propagated it for a while and sold it at their nursery.

Our Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’ is covered with pure white urn-shaped flowers right now:

Flowers on Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’

Next to Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’ is a variegated sport of Agave ‘Mr Ripple’. It’s coming into its own now and I expect it to put on some size this summer. To the right is a giant fennel (Ferula communis). It’s dormant from late spring to late fall and emerges when the rains return—and have they ever this year! On a trip to the Greek island of Santorini many years ago, we saw giant fennel growing everywhere. I love it when plants bring back fond memories.

Agave ‘Ripple Effect’ and giant fennel (Ferula communis)

The wonderfully prickly aloe in the next photo is supposed to be a natural hybrid between Aloe marlothii and A. globuligemma. I bought it about seven years ago from Arid Lands Greenhouses in Tucson. To me, it looks like 100% A. marlothii, but maybe the flowers will reveal the A. globuligemma parentage. It has never flowered, and I’m hoping this year might be the first time. Of course I had the same hope last year...

Aloe marlothii ×globuligemma, ×Mangave ‘Pineapple Punch’ (bottom)

Below the Aloe marlothii hybrid are two mangaves that have sailed through this tough winter completely unscathed: ×Mangave ‘Pineapple Punch’ and ×Mangave ‘Night Owl’. That makes them big winners in my book.

×Mangave ‘Pineapple Punch’ (top), ×Mangave ‘Night Owl’ (bottom)

Out of all the dudleyas, Baja California native Dudleya pachyphytum is my favorite, probably because it’s so chunky. I have six of them planted in a Corten steel bowl in the backyard, and they look as happy as can be, thumbing their figurative noses at the cold and rain.

Dudleya pachyphytum bowl

In a “normal” winter, we’d have quite a few aloes in bloom now. But because the second half of December was unusually cold and the first couple of weeks of January were nonstop rain, the aloes are about three weeks behind. In fact, a few stalwarts, like Aloe petricola, A. aculeata, and A. wickensii, are showing no signs of wanting to bloom at all. Others, like the ones below, are at least pushing inflorescences.

Aloe ferox × capitata

Aloe vaombe

Aloe aculeata × esculenta (flowering for the first time)

A few weeks ago, my friend Justin and I made a quick trip to Poot’s Cactus Nursery in Ripon. One of my purchases was this Rabiea difformis, a mat-forming mesemb or “ice plant” from South Africa. It had three buds when I bought it, and all three of them have opened up since then. According to LLIFLE’s Encyclopedia of Succulents, it’s hardy to 0°F (-18°C) when kept dry. That would make it suitable for cultivation in zone 7!

With little to do outside (I’m not one to putter around in the garden when it’s close to freezing), I’ve started a bunch of seeds in plastic tubs, including 13 (!) different Trichocereus/Echinopsis hybrids from Germany. It’ll be a good five years before they flower so this is a major investment in time (and space, provided I get good germination and therefore multiples of each hybrid). I know, my craziness knows no bounds.

Finally, a few photos of our beloved Stella; it’s been a while since she’s made an appearance on the blog. Stella is a Formosan mountain dog, essentially a village dog from Taiwan, and she has keen hunting instincts. Her nemesis are squirrels, which often taunt her from a safe spot in a tree. Stella loves to put her front legs on tree trunks to see what’s going on:

She also loves to explore holes in the ground. This is what she does when she smells a ground squirrel:

We could hire her out for excavating jobs!

Scouting for tree squirrels, or digging for their ground-dwelling cousins, is tiring work and invariably leads to long naps. And since Stella has a thin coat, she quite likes a cozy nest of blankets:

Naaaah, she’s not spoiled at all!

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. There's a LOT to be happy about in your garden, Gerhard! The Veltheimia is a gorgeous thing and your photo will send me out to see if there's any sign of either of the two I planted years ago. The variegated 'Mr Ripple' is fantastic too. Stella is always a delight.

    1. Focusing on the positive gave me a much-needed boost. It's easy to get bogged down in negativity.

  2. Digging dogs! Billie especially loves doing this at the beach. I somehow missed the post on plant theft and hate that this was done to you, one of the kindest, most generous and gregarious of plant people. Looking forward to seeing photos of your giant fennel in bloom!

    1. Digging dogs, exactly, just like the nursery! I hope I get to meet Billie some day.

      Thank you for your kind words!

  3. So when I saw the title of this post I assumed it was going to be a plant-shopping topic ! Even better to find the positives after a rough January. As far as I'm concerned , Feb is spring -we'll see how that plays out this year .

    1. 35°F here this morning. Not very spring-like. Can we skip ahead to, say, late February?

  4. The Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’ i. Since it might die soon anyway, just enjoy the beauty of it. I would just leave it alone. But that is just me. :-)

  5. I am in agreement with the above Anon, re the Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’. It would be a shame to mess with that gorgeous combination. I am glad you took the time to appreciate the good things happening in your garden. It's hard to do when there are so many negatives. We're heading back into a cold spell (lows to 20 or high teens, highs just barely above freezing) so that should finish off a few of the damaged and saturated agaves in my garden...

  6. Lovely. I wish I could be there in a warmer place (for us). That Rabiea plant is truly special, and I could almost grow it here--not quite, as we occasionally reach -20F. Not much below 0F this year, though. Stella is a sweetie; "spoiling" is OK. :)

  7. I feel your pain and joy. Such is gardening. My two year old pepper trees blew over in the recent storms. Disappointing, but my gardener and I uprighted them and staked them more securely, I hope. I suffered some soil erosion from the rains and need to find some long term solution, but things aren’t so bad. Fortunately, my four Palo Verde tree withstood the 40 mph + winds. I’m so thankful for that. Frost damage is minimal. My agave and cacti mound are showing off their splendor. Yuccas and Palm trees are anchored and beautifully reaching out, arms extended, pushing shade onto soft succulent plantings. Life, and my garden, is good.


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