Still Here

I’m still here, yanking up bermuda grass in the newly planted garden. The garden isn’t much to look at, after languishing for months in the bone dry soil. Now that the rain is here (sort of, more please), the plants that made it are starting to perk up. The only photos worth sharing from the garden are close ups. Pictures of puny plants with plant carcasses interspersed doesn’t make for inspired viewing.
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I’m most excited to be able to grow the soft leaf agaves in Oakland’s milder climate. I’m ready to protect them in the event of a cold snap however. Pictured above is the chartreuse foliaged Agave attenuata ‘Rhaea’s Gold’. Some would say it looks as though it could use a dose of nitrogen, but I personally like it. Variegated and otherwise mutated leaves can be polarizing in the horticulture universe, and I land squarely on the side of fanatic.
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Here’s another shot, maybe a little gaudy for some. This picture was taken before the recent rains washed off the ash and other grime from the leaves.
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Aechmea recurvata, a terrestrial bromeliad, comes by its orange coloration naturally, only in bright light though. I recently came across four inch starts of the variegated form, but at the price it was offered, I quickly put it down. Variegates of an already not too common plant can demand a high price.

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When you’re an Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’, you always make sure to have a tube of the deepest crimson lipstick on hand. Dear, I think you have a little on your teeth. Don’t listen to those mean Euphorbias, Ebony, you’re looking fantastic, whatever you’re doing, keep it up.
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Always ready for her close-up.

Also looking sharp is Agave potatorum ‘Kissho Kan’. The variegation on this form isn’t too strong, but I love the wavy little spines and good natured disposition on this one. Probably could use a potting up soon. Quarters are getting cramped for more than a few plants that have been kicking around for a while.
Untitled Agave celsii albicans is much happier in the ground. When I first acquired it, as a very thoughtful gift (thanks DC!), it had only a couple of sickly looking leaves and rotted roots. I wasn’t sure it would make it, but in true agave fashion, it pulled through, the tough little trouper. It was looking really good until this summer, when I let it bake in its pot, not realizing that it was underpotted and not absorbing water. It was looking good again after being planted in the ground until a rogue umbrella attack. The irony is that the umbrella was propped up in order to protect this and a few other new plants. The same winds that kicked up the fires north of here sent the umbrella flying across the yard, smashing plants on its way. Boy, I really live on the edge here in Oakland. Attack umbrellas and all. Untitled
Well, lot’s of little plants are taking hold in the garden here. Some large ones too… Aloe ‘Hercules’ holds the record for the most I have ever paid for a single plant, also the very first plant placed in the front garden. Prevailing logic was that I pay an equivalent amount for a bunch of smaller plants in a couple of nursery visits, so why not just get one big thing? I may have still gotten those smaller plants, so there is clearly a fault in my logic. Not a great photo, I really need to get some nice rock mulch for this area, in part to cover those horrid little white rocks that are mixed in with the soil in both the front and the back garden. Mixed in along with lots of other fun stuff like broken glass (a lot), beer bottle caps (also a lot), and other garbage (again, really a lot). Oakland has a serious garbage problem. Drifts of garbage blow up and down the streets here, collecting in snags and crevices, like snow. Those Texas-sized islands of garbage in the middle of the ocean are starting to get easier to imagine. Have I mentioned the garbage here yet? There’s a lot of it. Here, take some home with you. No really, I insist…
Untitled Some garbage is good. The East Bay is blessed with some well stocked salvage shops. Urban Ore, my favorite, is a great place to find interesting planters for good prices. Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ had crispy leaf tips when I got it unfortunately, but hopefully will grow out of the ugly phase soon. Untitled
Anyway, I recently tagged along with Beloved to an appointment in Walnut Creek, with the idea that I could pop over to The Ruth Bancroft Garden for a gander. Well I gandered until my time was up, then dragged Beloved back to the garden. The nursery there is great, and some of Curator Brian Kemble’s hybrids show up on the shelves, which is exciting because they’re really wonderful. I highly recommend this garden to anyone visiting. I won’t tell you about the history, because I would butcher it, but the garden is very interesting. I recently picked up The Bold Dry Garden, a book with stunning photographs by Marion Brenner, and it made me fall in love with the garden even more. I’ll end with a couple photos from my visit.
Untitled I think I need to snatch up the next Boophone disticha I see, regardless of price tag. Untitled

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A Garden at Dusk

I feel like it’s been too long since I’ve really set out to write about landscapes. Despite my proclamations of settling down, I’ve decided to keep things interesting by moving yet again. I’ve also changed jobs (twice) since I last wrote. I’ve fallen in love (and not just with another plant). All very good and necessary things, but I’ve neglected to share my plant adventures here.
The pace here in the East Bay is pretty foreign to me still, after only five months of living here. I only got fleeting whiffs of it when I visited from the Sonoma area, but now that I’m immersed in it on a daily basis I notice the difference. I think I finally understand why the gardens here have a more energetic feeling; it isn’t just the fog, the lack of frost and prolonged heat, it’s also the intense pace that drives people to create sophisticated and plant-centric gardens. Perhaps I’m only speaking for myself, but dreaming of plants constantly is a wonderful salve for all my other neuroses. There couldn’t be a better time to take refuge in the garden. Often I think that the plant world has really got this life thing really figured out. If only we could all just photosynthesize and keep the peace.
Even in the plant world, there is a constant struggle. Perhaps it’s a different one than the ones we face as beings with central nervous systems, but I like to think that our problems are somewhat relatable. Then again, I do tend to project onto plants. Having said that, gardens make for lovely safe places, away from the concrete and cars, political and social drama, the stuff that can be crazy-making. Fortunately, I live in one of the best regions for horticulture. It was a few weeks ago when I stumbled across onto UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens’ events calendar. I then discovered that on certain Tuesdays the garden hours are extended until 7 PM. Wonder of wonders they also have quite an exiting array of other events, one of which my partner and I signed up for.
UntitledA few evenings ago we found ourselves sipping on various herbaceous liqueurs in the herb garden, listening to curator Jason Bonham espouse the various uses and mysticisms that certain herbs possess. He speaks passionately about his small patch of the garden and he greeted and introduced each plant like an old friend. Shortly after he finished his tour I sped off snapping as many photos as I could in the short time before it got too dark. The gardens seem to have a magical glow at that time of evening, despite the fact the fog was just beginning to wrap the trees at the edge of the canyon in its haze.Untitled

The entrance garden is probably my favorite part of the garden. While the rest of the garden (excluding the houses) is divided by region, the entrance garden is an all-you-can-eat buffet of awesome well adapted plants.

UntitledSee?UntitledThe variegated Arundo donax, a thug in the right conditions. Charming here where an army of well-trained gardeners can keep an eye on it.Untitled
Untitled The garden almost glows at this time of evening, and the hot colors and whites especially pop. It seemed that as the garden was nearly empty, there were more hummingbirds and rabbits than I had ever seen in one place.Untitled A sliver of the bay seen through Strawberry Canyon. UntitledVerbascum do extremely well in our summer dry climate. Perhaps some varieties a little too well. Annie’s Annuals and Perennials in Richmond carries some of the lesser seen varieties. I love seeing the blooms of these tight and tall Mediterraneans poking through a densely packed garden.Untitled The herb garden is laid out in a traditional English way. The lavender at the very front is from cuttings out of Shakespeare’s garden, according to Jason Bonham.UntitledAbove, the spread where drinks were being served just out of frame to the left. Palms standing parade rest.Untitled The Puya raimondii on the right of the screen looks like its gearing up to bloom again, to my uneducated eye. This bromeliad hold the title for largest in its family (pineapple family). You can see the old bloomstalk to the left, the crispy flagpole. UntitledGlimpsing the New Desert from the fynbos of South Africa. The cabbage tree Cussonia paniculata makes for a gorgeous, if somewhat goofy, garden subject.UC Berkeley at DuskAgave celsii albicans recovering from hail damage earlier in the season. Evidence that these tender large leaved woody lilies are not quite invincible. This agave really glows in the garden. UC Berkeley at DuskRight by the entrance gate, Beschorneria yuccoides and Otatea acuminata aztecorum, the Mexican weeping bamboo, play off of each other quite nicely. The entrance garden is a great example of how mixing up foliage texture can create a lot of drama with flowers as accents.UC Berkeley at DuskYucca ‘Blue Boy’ and an agave glow near the plant deck and gift shop. I find the fuzzy flower buds of Echinopsis pachanoi both intriguing and bizarre. Maybe a little repulsive when viewed closely. Something about the smooth surface of the bud and the patchiness of the hairs give me the chills.UC Berkeley at DuskSarracenia leucophylla yawning and stretching, politely hinting that our time to leave was drawing near.UC Berkeley at DuskView down the ravine into the New Desert garden. Normally when I’m here, it’s basking in the harsh afternoon glare. Refreshing to see it in the evening light.UC Berkeley at DuskThe excitement of the Arid House under lights. Our final sight of the evening before we left.

You Had Better Get Yourself to The Ruth Bancroft Garden

I’m finally starting to settle in at my new house, and even have a kitchen table of my own like a real adult. A kitchen table makes a big difference when it comes to writing. I can’t write in bed without dozing off. I can’t write on the couch without getting distracted. Anyway, here I am, writing, reminiscing about my adventure to the Ruth Bancroft Garden a few Saturdays ago. In fact, it was the Saturday immediately following the presidential election, and I was sorely in need of some peaceful time in order to process all of the news. I lucked out that Saturday; it’s been raining off and on (!!!) for the last few weeks here in the Bay Area. The gods were smiling that day.

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I love the Aechmea recurvata above, and have a couple of different varieties. They are related to Tillandsia (air plants) and can be grown epiphytically like air plants or grown in soil. From my experience, they seem to prefer soil. They are surprisingly xeric, and seem to get more foliar coloration when they’re grown a bit hard.

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Here they can be seen making nice with Tanacetum haradjanii and a Dyckia hybrid, a terrestrial bromeliad like the Aechmea. The vicious spines are a bit more obvious on the Dyckia, but Aechmea does have spines along the leaves as well, and I can attest personally to their sharpness. Most bromeliads do have a way of making an impression.

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Another favorite of mine is this Agave celsii albicans. It is one of those agaves that makes me think of the great white sharks that have been spotted occasionally spotted in the Pacific near the Golden Gate. While this agave can draw a few drops of blood, it probably won’t be making off with any of your limbs. I have a small start of this agave from UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, where an impressive clump can be admired.

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Here’s an overall shot of the clump. Give this agave a wide berth.

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Agave attenuata is one of my favorite agaves. Unfortunately it is too tender to be left out here in the North Bay, where temperatures dip below freezing during the winter. A variegate that I left out is doing a great impression of wilted lettuce. The plain species looks better but has developed an unsightly case of agave pox.

None of these photos were taken in any sort of order, because as usual, I skipped around the garden and went back and forth. It’s hard to focus when there are so many succulents.

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Here’s Agave gypsophila, who may have accidentally left the curlers in too long. An old flowering stem is nudging in…

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From this clump of Echeveria gibbiflora. Every plant featured so far is from south of the border. If there’s a wall built, I’d like to be on the Echeveria side of it, please.

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Moving swiftly along, Grevillea petrophiloides sends out flares of blooms well above any foliage. Perhaps it’s signaling its native Australia for a rescue?

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Here’s a closeup of the bloom from Jo O’Connell’s Australian Native Plants Nursery in Ojai, from my visit way back when (March). Quite a bizarre color combination.

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These cacti go marching one by one. And a Dioon sneaking in.

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Just to prove that it’s not all about the flowers at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, here is a shot of the rare Swainsonia formosa. It can be challenging to grow I’ve heard, but it looked spectacular here. Maybe it’s the water. Everything is pretty incredible in this magical place, including its founder, Ruth Bancroft, who lives on the property, and celebrated her 108th birthday last year. She started many of the plants in this garden from either seed or very small starts, before succulents were found at Home Cheapo. She curated the bones of the garden very carefully, selecting choice species to grow. The garden has expanded and now has a nursery, which is stocked with a very good selection of xeric plants to take home.

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Here’s one more flower, because people seem to like them. Protea neriifolia, which hails from South Africa. One I would definitely grow if I had soil to plant in. Unfortunately, I only have containers. I guess I’ll just have to visit more gardens. Oh well.

Parting shot:
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A bench falling into the Petaluma River, with a view of the 101 overpass. Shollenberger Park, Petaluma.

Back to it (soon-ish)

Hopefully I will be back to a semi-regular blog regimen soon, as I have finally started to put roots down so to speak. I have been on the move for the past few months, but I will be settling down (to a degree) in the lovely little community of Kenwood. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I’m excited, and will be posting all about the plants that made the cut and moved with me and why they’re so awesome and why everyone should grow them. But for now, a small offering in the form of a photo collage. These were all taken on my first neighborhood walk. The Gingkoes are located in a small park a block away from where I live, and the concrete pipes are at a local market, really clever and definitely something to replicate.

The Taft Garden

After leaving Casitas Springs, my much anticipated next stop was the Taft Garden in Ojai. Not much information on this garden can be found, as it is not open to the general public. For more information (and better pictures) on this incredible garden, check out A Growing Obsession’s post. There was no signage guiding visitors to the garden, and my GPS proved unreliable on this particular journey. Verbal directions given earlier were a bit murky to my plant-addled brain, having just experienced some of the most incredible gems Australia has to offer at Australian Native Plants Nursery. After a couple of wrong turns, I finally ended up in the parking lot of one of the most incredible gardens I have ever been to.

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The huts are where visitors are supposed to sign in. Though there were no other visitors to this 265 acre garden during my visit, I noticed many other people had visited the garden earlier in the week. Still, the feeling of being the only person in this massively-proportioned garden was a bit unnerving.

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The garden is incredibly well maintained. The sound of a distant chainsaw hummed in the background, providing proof of life in this deserted garden. These Veltheimia bracteata bloomed cheerily away in spite of the dearth of admirers visiting the garden.

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One of the plants I most looked forward to seeing during my trip down south was Furcraea macdougalii, and the Taft Garden had a few jaw-dropping specimens. Untitled

The aloes had mostly finished blooming by this time, but they hardly need blooms. These tree-like aloes formed a massive grove in the South African area of the garden. All kinds of massive specimens like this trio of Aloe marlothii.

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The Leucadendron discolor was going at it full tilt during my visit, however.

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The smoldering flowers and bracts seemed to have a light of their own.

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At almost any vantage in the garden, the backdrop of mountains loom, adding to the monumental atmosphere of the garden.

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It was starting to get pretty toasty, and lack of water had me seeking shelter, but not before I snapped hundreds more photos of the aloes.

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Aloe dichotoma and friends.

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These massive silvery Cussonia paniculata mark the end of the South African area.

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The banksia were my favorite plants that day, and seeing this Banksia repens blooming away in the ground contented me with my purchase of the very same plant earlier in the day.

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It was quite breezy the day I visited, and the wind made a plaintive whistling through the grove of casuarina as I wandered underneath. The magnificent boulders like the ones under the acacia were strewn throughout the garden, as though a glacier had placed them. They were much too strategically placed for that though, in my opinion. Maybe some artful rearranging?

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Never in my life had I seen so many lust-worthy plants in one place. This garden left me a bit befuddled. The scale was that of a world-class botanical garden, but it felt so devoid of human life, almost post-apocalyptic.

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Australian Native Plants Nursery

My recent road trip to Southern California yielded, among other things, a fruitful trip to an amazing nursery in Casitas Spings, a small community between Ventura and Ojai. The day I visited was extremely windy and bright, making photography challenging. Still, there were quite a few things that caught my lens. Jo O’Connell, who runs this nursery, is an extremely knowledgable and friendly nurserywoman. I emailed her in advance of my visit and she was happy to let me wander her primarily mail order/wholesale nursery. She explained to me that she was brought out to Ventura County from her native Australia to help create a botanical garden in Ojai, a garden that I was hoping to visit after stopping by Australian Native Plants.

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Eye-poppingly cobalt blue Lechenaultia biloba blooms away in one of the hoop houses. A short lived sub-shrub in the Goodeniaceae family. Other members include Scaevola and Brunonia.

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Some of the most incredible leaf and flower shapes come from the Australian ProteaceaeGrevillea petrophiloides, colloquially known as pink pokers. Supposedly quite hardy, one of the more unusual flower color combinations.

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Jo had an incredible display of Banksia cones in the shop, showcasing the diversity of this incredible genus.

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Many species of Banksia are pollinated by birds, but the ones with higher fertilization rates (the ones in the back with more seeds) are more likely pollinated by mammals, such as sugar gliders. The stiff, brush-like styles work as combs on fur, collecting pollen as the critter works over the flower. Banksia ericifolia above.

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Another shot showing the incredible symmetry of the flower.

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This Grevillea ‘Bonfire’ was loaded with flowers. Every single branch was weighed down with hundreds of engine-red blooms.

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Not all of Jo’s plants are from Australia. This Protea comes from South Africa, parts of which also have a mediterranean climate and depleted soils. Jo explained to me that there were trials currently being conducted at the Taft Botanical Garden in Ojai on the drought tolerance of Australian plants compared with those of native Californians. If I remember correctly, the Australian plants were much more economical with water usage. I’ll have to delve deeper into this at some point.

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The day was flying by, and I still wanted to visit the Taft Garden in Ojai. With my purchase safely tucked into the back of my car, I got directions to the garden. Leucospermum above. Not what I left with, but a gorgeous plant all the same.

 

 

Bloom Day March 2016

Every month on the 15th, garden bloggers across the country post pictures of what is currently blooming. This is my first bloom day, and as is my usual style, I’m pushing it in just under the wire. It’s midterm week, what can I say? Here are some blooms from my old and new gardens. A visit to my former garden yielded some surprise bloomers, but more importantly, some succulent cuttings for an upcoming project.

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Lupinus albifrons blooms away near the front sidewalk. Mostly grown for the gorgeous silver foliage, the blooms are a welcome bonus.

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Silver and gold. With Anemanthele lessoniana in the background. The Pheasant’s tail grass, should be replaced every few years, the ones in the front are nearing their end.

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This lovely evergreen perennial can be smelled before it is seen. Blooms sporadically throughout the year, most prolifically in late spring. The enchanting Verbena lilicina ‘De la Mina’

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My camera seems to have been drawn to the California natives today. Dendromecon rigid hartfordii, the channel island bush poppy.

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Coreopsis gigantea leans close to the sidewalk. A succulent member of the daisy family, this tickseed grows an ever taller trunk with a poof of foliage at the top. It can tend toward rattiness in the summer if the dying foliage isn’t cleaned up.

Can't see snail damage from here...

From a dirty kitchen window last spring, pre-lean.

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Ceanothus ‘Yankee Point’ with buds of Leptospermum ‘Helen Strybing’. Plants should mingle.

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One of the easiest tulips for the dry garden, Tulipa saxitilis almost glows. I’m not a big fan of pink, but this shade is luminescent.

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Shown here in two stages, bud and senescence.

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I’m a big fan of simple magnolia flowers. There is something calming about their cleanliness and scent. These miniature versions come from Michelia crassipes, possibly now lumped into Magnolia. Grown for reddish fuzz on the undersides of leaves and buds.

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This tulip has come back astonishingly well for a hybrid tulip. No special care. Also not from my garden. An orgy of petals.

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In tighter bud form.

Note to self: More flowers.