Garden vignettes, early January 2024

It’s no secret that winter is my least favorite season. But this winter has been as mild as any I can remember: According to the UC Davis weather station, the December 2023 low was 31°F (Dec. 11), with 3.57" of precipitation, vs. a December 2022 low of 27°F (twice) and 5.88" of precipitation – these four degrees make a big difference! In January 2024, the lowest temperature so far has been 34°F, with just 0.62" of rainfall. Winter has many more weeks to go, of course, but for mid-January, things are looking good.

Another auspicious omen: I just ordered a few extra frost blankets, extra heavy weight to boot. The last time I ordered frost blankets, the predicted arctic blast (temps in the mid-20s, if I remember correctly) didn’t materialize. The very act of buying frost blankets seems to keep hard freezes at bay. This seems silly, of course, but hey, you have to believe in something.

Before this rosy outlook has a chance to turn dark, let me show you some vignettes from the garden that caught my eye these past few days.

Front yard, inside the fence

Aloidendron ramosissimum in front of Corten cactus garden

Agave chazaroi, Aloidendron ramosissimum, and Aloidendron dichotomum (small, in terracotta pot)

Ferocactus herrerae (back), Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’ (front)

Redone area previously occupied by an Agave bovicornuta, which I removed in July 2023 after it had flowered. The woody things in the middle are pieces of a cholla skeleton.

Backlit cactus on the front porch

The jade plant (Crassula ovata) is one of the humblest of succulents, often looked down upon by gardeners in climates where it’s easily grown, but cherished by people in colder climates. Our jade plant was a freebie (complete with pot). I don’t think I’ve ever added more soil or given it fertilizer, and yet, here it is, blooming in early January. It deserves more respect than it typically gets.

Jade plant (Crassula ovata)

×Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ looked pretty battered in late summer, probably because it wasn’t getting as much water as it needed. In the last few months, however, it’s recovered nicely and looks good right now:

×Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’

Aloe flowers (and winter-flowering bulbs) are what get me through the winter. None of my big aloes are blooming yet, but it shouldn’t be much longer. Anticipation is high. Here are just a couple of aloes on the cusp of flowering:

Aloe alooides

This is the Aloe excelsa that had rotted in its previous spot. I cut off the bottom of the stem in January 2022 and put the plant in pure pumice. It took six months, but the stem re-rooted, and in October 2022, I planted Aloe excelsa at the top of the reclaimed bamboo hill. Now, 15 months later, it’s about to flower for the first time since March 2020 (it looked like this).

Aloe ‘Tangerine’ and ×Mangave ‘Queen for a Day’

Aloe ‘Tangerine’ and ×Mangave ‘Queen for a Day’

Aloe peglerae × mawii is one of a handful of aloes about to flower for the first time, which is particularly exciting

This aloe hybrid is years from flowering (it’s just starting to morph from its juvenile distichous form into a rosette), but Aloe (ortholopha × spectabilis) × marlothii (Utrecht form) has such intriguing parentage that its flowers (and its adult form) should be quite special

Aloe ‘Moonglow’, a complex hybrid from Leo Thamm‘s breeding program in South Africa, is always the first aloe to bloom in our garden. The flowers haven’t opened yet, but they’re very close. We have three clumps of ‘Moonglow’ now, and I’m ready to take a few more cuttings this spring.

Aloe ‘Moonglow’ in front of Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’

Another clump of Aloe ‘Moonglow’

Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius) is one of only three trees in the front yard. I planted it in the fall of 2019 as a replacement for an odious Bradford pear. It was almost 6 ft. tall when I bought it, now it’s three times that.

Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius

With its fern-like divided leaves, it’s one of the most beautiful trees native to California. The subspecies name, aspleniifolius, means “asplenium-like leaves,” referring to the spleenwort ferns (genus Asplenium).

Astonishingly, Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius is native to the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California (see below). The Channel Islands have cooler summers and warmer winters than Davis, and yet this tree thrives here in the Sacramento Valley. Go figure.

Red rectangle = Channel Islands

Our Ruth Bancroft manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Ruth Bancroft’) is putting on a massive flower show this year. It’s underplanted with an Aloe bulbillifera hybrid from Jeff Moore of Arid Adaptations in Tucson, AZ, which is almost always in flower (a rarity for aloes). I apologize for going a bit overboard with these photos, but I love both of these plants so much.

Flower petals 

The Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ replacement planted just a couple of weeks ago (see this post) has settled in nicely between Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ and Agave ‘Ripple Express’. A few more weeks, and I’ll have forgotten all about the spindly ‘Hercules’ that lived here for 9+ years.

Aloidendron ‘Hercules’ × Aloidendron ramosissimum

Veltheimia capensis, aka Cape lily, is the star of the next vignette. This South African bulb really delivers in the middle of winter. I started out with one bulb (bought in November 2011) and now have a nice clump. On the bottom right is Hechtia argentea, in the center an Aloe vanbalenii hybrid, and in the background Agave ovatifolia and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’.

Every year, we have countless California poppy volunteers. In addition, I recently scattered 2000+ seeds of a white-flowering form called ‘White Linen’, inspired by what I saw in Cricket Riley’s garden in Walnut Creek. I don’t know how many of the 2000 seeds actually germinated, but there are poppy seedlings everywhere. Time will tell if they flower orange or white.

One last random vignette, just because I like this combo. In the back, Yucca linearifolia on the far left, with Calliandra californica next to it, Aloe marlothii × geminiflora in the middle, and Agave parrasana × colorata all the way on the right. In the front, ×Mangave ‘Aztec King’, ×Mangave ‘Pineapple Punch’, Agave simplex (tiny), and Agave ‘Burnt Burgundy’.

The forecast for the next ten days looks good, with no freeze in sight. Fingers crossed it’ll continue like this!

© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Beautiful Gerhard! I have an old jade flowering in a pot as well, I agree it has earned it's spot. The color of the bloom on the aloe bulbillifera hybrid, gracious it's so BOLD and lovely. I'm going to go back to the top of your post and have a second look at everything while I have another cup of coffee.

  2. Is the Aloe bulbillifera the blue one right under the Manzanita? That is fabulous. Your garden looks wonderful. We have had 2 nights of frost and the Lantanas and other soft shrubs froze. They usually come back from the roots in spring (I hope). I am concerned about my Aloe buds. My Aloe 'Moonglow' (purchased from Devon Boutte) is budded and covered with frost cloth right now so I can't tell. I lost the other one I had last summer to the high heat. Time will tell on the one left.

    1. A. bulbillifera is apple green. The blue plant is Agave parrasana x colorata.

  3. It looks like your garden has hit the sweet spot this winter with just enough rain and not too much cold, Gerard. I love the Mangave 'Queen for a Day' and the cheerful Veltheimia. I need to try growing the latter again (in a different spot). I hope my 'Moonglow' Aloes are as bountiful as yours in future years too.

    1. It's been such a mild winter. Now I've said it, probably tempting fate...

  4. Wow! some truly spectacular photos and pairings. The Aloe 'Moonglow' and 'Sapphire Skies' yucca, Mangaves 'Queen For A Day' and 'Mission to Mars' particularly caught my eye. The warmer winter is certainly allowing the plants to shine. We are in a record breaking freeze right now. Hope this doesn't shift gears and move your way.

    1. I feel so lucky (and guilty) that our winter has been mild so far. My heart goes out to all you who have lost plants to the deep freeze.

  5. Aloe excelsa is such an inspiring success story. I'm looking forward to seeing the saturated color of its blooms.
    I don't know if Mangave ‘Queen for a Day’ has ever looked more spectacular; Wow.

    1. You know, I really didn't think excelsa would pull through. I'm so glad it did.

  6. Great photos as always Gerhard. Love your extensive Aloe collection and that's a beautiful Veltheimia. Please let me know if you ever have a cutting of the A. ramosissimum available!

  7. Is that Agave ‘Ripple Effect’ or is that a new variation on ‘Mister Ripple’ I haven’t heard of? It’s looking great.

    1. Good eye! Yes, that's Agave 'Ripple Effect', a variegated form of 'Mr Ripple'.


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