Ruth Bancroft Garden visit, September 2023

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Kyle and I stopped at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek for a long overdue visit. The timing was perfect because the garden looked stunning. As we all know, this doesn’t just happen as if by magic – it’s the result of the hard work and dedication of the RBG’s garden crew and volunteers. Kudos to them for all they do. Too often, their efforts are taken for granted.

On that note, let’s dive in. This is a photo-heavy post so get comfy in your chair/couch/bed or wherever you may be reading this.

Spectacular Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ right inside the entrance

This bed, one of the newer ones, has become one of my favorites. I’d be so thrilled if this were in my own garden.

This marvelous blob of green is Casuarina ‘Cousin It’, a prostrate form of the Australian swamp oak. In spite of the cultivar name, it’s unrelated to Acacia ‘Cousin Itt’ (with two t’s).

Agave utahensis var. eborispina growing in a crevice between two rocks. The yellow flowers on the left are desert marigolds (Baileya multiradiata).

Agave franzosinii is truly massive, especially compared to Agave parryi var. truncata on the left

I want to say this is Agave colorata, but in a world-class botanical garden like the RBG it’s dangerous to guess

Eucalyptus macrocarpa with its unruly trunks

These agave teeth are serious

St. Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum), one of the largest California buckwheats

This agave is in the California/Baja California section. Maybe a form of Agave sebastiana?

Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei) is to Baja California what the saguaro is to the Sonoran Desert

Dudleya brittonii

Dudleya pulverulenta in its summer dormancy

Our Lord’s candle (Hesperoyucca whipplei) bottom left, Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) top left

Agave ovatifolia pushing a flower stalk; on the right: Furcraea macdougallii

Same Agave ovatifolia from the other direction

The RBG’s very own Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Clearly it doesn’t know that it’s supposed to grow upright.

Another Agave ovatifolia (left), and the very special Ruth Bancroft manzanita hybrid (Arctostaphylos)

Massive Aloidendron ‘Hercules’

A handful of spiral aloes (Aloe polyphylla)

Aloe polyphylla is notoriously difficult to grow in areas with hot summers (like Walnut Creek and Davis)

Clearly, the curators, Brian Kemble and Walker Young, have cracked the code on how to keep Aloe polyphylla reasonably happy

I desperately want to have one in my garden, but I’ve killed too many, and they’re not cheap

Massive variegated Agave americana. For comparison, Kyle is 6 ft. 4 in. (193 cm).

Agave ovatifolia seems small!

Agave salmiana, another giant

Much smaller: Mangave ‘Blue Fountain’, created by curator Brian Kemble

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’... of several

The two Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ at the top left have finishing blooming

The mother rosettes are dying...

...but pups are appearing to keep the cycle going

Euphorbia echinus, one of the euphorbia species from Morocco

Mystery agave, possibly involving Agave colorata

Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana ‘Rabid Dog’

Cleistocactus straussii (top left), Deuterocohnia brevifolia (bottom left), and unidentified Mexican cycad

Opuntia gomei ‘Old Mexico’

Mass planting of Mammillaria geminispina

Agave impressa

Agave nickelsiae

Agave victoriae-reginae

Agave victoriae-reginae

Mangave ‘Tooth Fairy’

Dudleya pachyphytum

The leaves on this Agave franzosinii were neatly folded under...

...maybe to protect the core from excessive sun exposure?

Just behind the wall you see in the next-to-last photo is the RBG’s excellent nursery, always worth a stop. On this visit, I got an Aloe tomentosa positively bursting out of its 1-gallon container and an Anigozanthos ‘Tequila Sunrise’, a tall kangaroo paw with orange flowers (none of those stunted dwarf paws for me).

I’ve been to the Ruth Bancroft Garden so many times that I automatically assume every succulent lover in Northern California has been there a time or two. Not so. I still run into people who haven’t even heard of it. If you know somebody who hasn’t been, do them a favor and take them for a visit!

Address: 1552 Bancroft Rd, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 4 pm (closed on Mondays)

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


  1. It IS indeed stunning! I loved all the silvery blue succulents. I can't imagine growing agaves as big as franzosinii or salmiana but they are impressive. The Dr Seussian Yucca brevifolia grabbed my attention too. Your tour emphasized my need for more rock (again).

    1. That Seussian Joshua tree was donated to the garden.

      As for rocks, we all need more rocks!!!

  2. One day I will make it there. The collection of agaves and now mangaves is impressive. Love the photo of the wicked teeth. I have the Ruth Bancroft book and am always blown away by the photos of Ruth sitting in one of the leaves of the A. salmiana(?). When you grow agaves in pots it's hard to imagine them achieving such a huge size. Thanks for the tour. Would love to see a picture of your giant Anigozanthos.

    1. I love that photo of Ruth Bancroft. Talk about scale!

      Agaves in pots get bonsai'ed, if you will. They grow until they're roots have filled the pot, then they stop.

  3. Fabulous garden. It hurts me to see the A. ‘Hercules’ though. It is so strange that the big trunk on mine is solid as can be but the center on top is rotted. Hope to have a landscaper come soon and slowly cut it so I can see if it is rotted to the ground.

    1. OH NO! That doesn't sound good. I hope you'll be able to save it.

  4. It is an amazing place. And the 30% off sale for members begins October 5th! So tempting.

    1. I successfully resisted the pull of the 30% sale. I have enough plants. I have enough plants. I have enough plants.

  5. I've not been since my 2019 visit with you, it almost looks like a different garden, at least from these photos. I was just talking with a well-traveled local gardener friend who'd never been to the RBG...shocking! I love that Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana ‘Rabid Dog’, you're here by deputized to buy one for me, should you see one available somewhere...

    1. FOUR YEARS since you were here last? That blow my mind!

      'Rabid Dog', I'd take a dozen! I've got to ask Brian Kemble if this was a one-off.

  6. It is looking really good, but not enough photos!!!! Never enough of that BG. The smile on Kyle's face is the smile we all wear visiting a particularly wonderful garden.

    1. LOL, not enough photos? OK, I'll be more pictorially verbose the next time.


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