Dearest succ-ers--apologies for taking so long to write a new post for you. As you know, I've been missing my wonderful dog, Scout, for almost two months now. I'm happy to report that we've added a new dog to the household! Her name is Maisie, and she's no slouch in the cuteness department, as you'll see in the pic below. And as you can see in the pic to the right, she also likes to help me garden.
Of course, once you see this kind of predilection in your little one, you need to encourage it as much as possible. After all, Maisie could be the next Kelly Griffin! Or Debra Lee Baldwin! Or Gordon Rowley! So we've begun a strict training regimen that emphasizes proper potting and proper pottying in equal measure. As you can see in this video, we're making progress:
More soon, my friends. I hope your summer is succ-ing every bit as much as you had hoped!
As you know, my partner and I lost our beloved furry pal, Scout, last week. (Here's a free lesson: never have just one pet. Coming home to a quiet pet-less house is awful if it's not what you're used to.)
I asked readers to share pictures of their own animal gardening buddies, and I was touched that so many of you did! Thank you for the heartwarming pictures and condolences. Here are the pictures of succ-er pets that readers sent in:
What a cute bunch!
I know there are a lot of pets out there that need good homes, like Scout did almost a decade ago, and maybe eventually I'll be able to give another dog or two a good home. For now, I suspect I'd just be wandering after the new pet despondently, wondering why it isn't in magic psychic connection with me like Scout was. I'll keep you posted.
Thanks again to all of the succ-ers who sent in pictures of their furry gardening companions. It helps so much to see all those wonderful pets enjoying lives alongside their wonderful people!
Well, dear succ-ers, I have some bad news. My wonderful, beloved succulent mutt, Scout, has moved on to the big succulent garden in the sky. She was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of liver cancer back in November, and the vets expected her to live only a month or two. But with the help of chemo, love, generosity, and prayer, she lasted six months. They were good months, too--up until the day before she died, she was enjoying walks, treats, and laying in the sun. And up to her very last moments on earth, she loved cuddling with her moms.
It's hard to put into words how much I loved this dog, and what a faithful companion she was through some rough times. And, of course, she hung out with me while I gardened! Granted, on her part there was more relaxation than actual gardening, but she helped out by chasing cats, highlighting previously undiscovered patches of afternoon sunshine, and letting me know when it was too cold to stay outside.
I know that some of you, dear readers, also have animal companions who are your buddies in gardening and life. As a tribute to Scout, I would LOVE it if you'd email me a picture or two of your pet(s) in your yard/garden. Just email me the photo, along with your pet's name and anything you'd like me to say about him or her in the caption. Meanwhile, here are a few photos of Scout.
These last two pictures might be my favorite, because they remind me of some of the best, nicest, most relaxing times I've had in the past two years or so since I started succulent gardening: Scout hanging out with me on the front deck while I planted, and Scout curled up on my legs or my lap on the back deck.
I sure miss her.
Rest in peace, my dear friend.
I'm not going to pretend that my photos are as cool as Liz's, but I thought I'd share them nonetheless. (And, hey, not bad for iPhone photos, eh?) The Ruth Bancroft Garden is also featured, I just discovered, in a book that came out less than a year ago: Succulent Paradise.
Let's start with a few agaves, shall we?
Next, a few aloes. It's tough to capture the grandeur of the aloes here. There were really some amazing specimens, including huge aloe nobilis and aloe striata, of which I have no decent pictures. My favorite aloe, though, was the one immediately below this text, and to the right.
As regular readers of this blog are already aware, I am a bit of a haworthia geek. I may or may not have squealed aloud with glee when I saw a whole bunch of gorgeous haworthia truncata of various types, shades, and sizes growing among the rocks in a shaded area. Observe:
Although I wasn't always the world's biggest gasteria fan, I have to admit that they've grown on me more and more... particularly en masse and variegated!
And sempervivums (doesn't it seem like it should be "semperviva?") abounded:
Can we talk about terrestrial bromeliads for a moment? ...Actually, I don't have much to say about them; I just love the phrase "terrestrial bromeliad"--though these dyckia look extraterrestrial to me. I love the combinations of purples and greens.
Onto echeverias. Like (nearly) everything else in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, most of the echeverias weren't labeled. Ruth Bancroft (who is alive and kicking at over 100 years old!) doesn't like the way labels can detract from plants in a garden, which I can understand.
Last but not least... cacti! The RBG is home to dozens, maybe hundreds, of cacti varieties. It's a great time to visit the garden, because many of them are in bloom right now. A few favorites:
Bottom line: if you're anywhere in Northern California, it's worth the drive to Walnut Creek to check out the Ruth Bancroft Garden! (Especially if you're meeting your awesome parents for sushi.) And be sure to check out their nursery, too--they had several hard-to-find plants at pretty reasonable prices. Ta ta for now, succ-ers!
My partner, Liz, and I spent Saturday celebrating Mothers' Day with my parents at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. The RBG was even better than I expected, in part because they allow dogs AND have tables that make picnicking easy. My parents picked up sushi for the picnic 'cause that's how we roll. (Get it? Sushi? Roll? Hahaha.) We had a great time, enjoying the gardens and the nursery, where my mom and I each picked up a mangave bloodspot for $8.
I need to cull through my own photos and will post those in a few days, but meanwhile I wanted to share Liz's, which I thought were absolutely amazing. Here's a tiny fraction of 'em:
All in all, the RBG was more than worth the 90-minute drive from our house. And thanks to my parents' b-day present to me, I can get in for free all year as a member! Yay! Can't wait to go back. I'll share some of my own photography from the day (albeit inferior) soon.
At about this time last year, I was reluctantly admitting that I was starting to like cacti. I've come to like them even more over the past 361 days, and currently, several of mine are even in flower. There's nothing quite like a cactus blossom. E.g., on Friday, I woke up to this:
...Which, okay, even if you're not a cacti person, you have to admit is pretty gorgeous.
A year ago, I blanched every time someone lumped these spiny critters in with my plump, beloved echeverias or haworthias. Now I'm practically a cactus proselyte. If you're feeling cacti-curious, but aren't quite ready to convert, here are some varieties that might push you over the edge. (I've erred on the less spiny side, since many succ-ers have expressed the crazy desire not to be impaled on their own plants.)
What kinds of cacti should be added to this must-love list? Are any of you readers still cacti-reluctant? (I'm talking to you, Mom!) ;)
Do your succulents ever speak to you? I woke up this morning, and this semp shouted, "Greetings, Earthling! Take me to your leader!"
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Cactus & Succulent Society of San Jose's annual show and sale. I went last year and enjoyed it, and the difference between how much I saw/knew/understood this year vs. last year was huge, which was kind of gratifying. I may or may not have stood around allowing people to solicit me for advice. It may or may not have made me want to write a book about succulents and/or transform into Debra Lee Baldwin. Just sayin'.
If memory serves, last year's sale favored cacti over succs, but this year's wares were fairly evenly divided between cacti and other succulents. Plus, I like cacti more than I used to, particularly rebutias, of which there were plenty. One vendor had air plants, and there were some "meh" plastic pots. That was my only real disappointment--I wanted to pick up some cool pots, and this wasn't the place to do it.
Anyhow, without further ado, here are some photos of my favorite eye candy from Saturday's show! Some of these won prizes, and others did not, but they all caught my eye. Enjoy!
Pebbles, sand, and rocks are all common "top dressings"--that is, materials spread on top of the exposed soil in a potted plant. In addition to making an arrangement more colorful and decorative, top dressings have the practical effect of making plants easier to water, keeping moisture in, and preventing leaves from touching wet soil, which can lead to rot.
But conventional top dressings can go for as much as $5-$15 for a tiny bag! So in this post I thought I'd share some of the top dressing "hacks" I've discovered through other succ-ers' recommendations, as well as my own experimentation.
The first place to look is in your very own kitchen! Small objects with interesting textures make the best soil covers. As you can see in the picture to the left, I've combined raw peanuts with an aloe seedling. Be sure to use unsalted peanuts, since salt will change the ph level in the soil and can actually kill a plant.
In addition to peanuts, I've experimented with wasabi peas (successful, and makes for some fabulous color combinations--just be sure to get the msg-free kind, which you can find at Trader Joe's), water chestnuts (which look cool but tend to decompose within a few weeks), M&Ms (yellow ones look especially nice, and the candy shell keeps the M&Ms in tact, so no worries about melting), and chia seeds (which were fabulous until the second watering, when the seeds began to sprout).
As you can see in the picture to the right, larger items can work as well--the key is to make them bold and bright. For this composition, I've chosen kumquats. I made this back in October because I thought the bright orange gave the aeoniums an autumnal feel. The kumquats don't decompose because being placed directly on soil causes them to "chlorophate," meaning that they retain their shape, smell, and color.
You might recognize this next plant from my last post, where I mentioned that it was labeled as "Euphorbia sp." I've come to suspect that this was a mislabeling, since it does not seem to contain the trademark milky white "sap" for which euphorbias are known.
In any case, though, it's a lovely plant, and I think it's made even lovelier by the addition of discarded pharmaceutical pills. Because I didn't know if the chemicals would harm the plants, I didn't place the pills directly on the soil. Instead, I first sprinkled a layer of conventional jade pebbles. Then I scattered random expired pills on top of the pebbles. The result may not be for everyone, but I think it's both colorful and whimsical!
I know this next suggestion is going to be a little environmentally controversial, but I'm going to put it out there anyway: plastic wrap. Not saran wrap--I'm not suggesting you go out and buy plastic specifically for top dressing; that would be wasteful. Instead, whenever you order anything from Amazon, just save the plastic insulation that comes with it.
And I know what you're thinking: but I'm supposed to recycle! Yes, sure, I know. But you can think of this as a form of recycling. The only caveat I should mention is that water runs off of the plastic, so to water plants with plastic top dressing, just lift up the plastic, water, and put the plastic back on.
This last one is going to strike you as a little weird, and perhaps even a little gross, but hear me out, succ-ers--not only does this work, but it's good for your plants. If you have a dog or a cat and feed them hard kibble, take just a small handful and spread it atop the soil of any potted plant. It has kind of a cool texture, and an effect similar to lava rock--but I haven't gotten to the best part yet.
Most high-quality dry pet food is supplemented with vitamins and minerals to keep our furry friends healthy. Water helps these vitamins and minerals act as fertilizer.
After multiple waterings, the kibble will begin to soften and decompose. It may look a little gross at first, but over time and multiple waterings, it will turn lighter in color and form an attractive "crust" over the top.
The picture to the left is the same plant and the same kibble top dressing from the picture above, taken after six weeks of once-weekly waterings. To achieve the clay-brown hue you see in this composition, I prefer to use Iams. If available, choose a low-sodium variety with mineral supplements. (It's healthier for your pets, too!)
So what do you think, succ-ers? Have you ever tried any of these creative top dressings? Maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Did you read this all the way through without remembering that it's April Fool's Day? Haha!! Gotcha!
Yesterday, my girlfriend, a couple of friends, and I went to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in San Mateo. And I have to be totally honest, succ-ers: I was a little underwhelmed. Not because there weren't a lot of plants there (there were), and not because the display gardens weren't great (they were), but mainly because there was so dang much for sale that had only peripherally to do with gardening. At times, it felt like more one of those outdoor "festivals" where people sell various wares at small booths. Items for sale included BBQs, freestanding hot tubs, bar soap, and paintings (not of plants, nor gardens) on silk.
All of which is *not*, by any means, to disparage the show or the folks who were selling things there. I was just expecting more plants--well, let's be honest--more succulents. And to be fair, my visit did not coincide with the succulent-relevant seminars held by succulent luminaries such as Debra Lee Baldwin and Robin Stockwell, and I'm sure those were terrific.
A few highlights. Agave attenuata "Kara's Stripe" was featured in the "hot plants" room. Judging from the array there, I understood "hot" to mean "newly popular" rather than "best for hot climates." And there were a lot of gorgeous bonsais there, too, several of which were many decades old, and truly amazing.
Succulent Gardens was one of only two succulent-specific vendors present, and they had a predictably terrific array of plants and books. In addition to picking up a few plants such as the unnamed euphorbia pictured, right (which I would have sworn was a hoodia, but there were a bunch of them, all labeled "Euphorbia sp.," which just goes to show that I still have a lot left to learn). I also had a chance to say hello to the lovely Tiffany Polli, the SG Retail Manager, knows a great deal about succulents and has a wonderful sense of humor to boot. At last year's show, Succulent Gardens displayed the famous globe.
The other mostly-or-solely-cactus-and-succulent purveyor, Sticky Situation, was new to me, and had come all the way from Tucson, Arizona to show their wares. I picked up two very cool gymnocalyciums from them a g. mesopotamicum (cresting!) and a g. friedriechii. Check out that amazing purple color!
Sticky Situation also had the most drool-worthy plant I saw at the whole event: a huge crested myrtillocactus geometrizans (pictured below). Hmm... My birthday's coming up in a couple of months... anyone wondering what to get me? Look no further!
There was a smattering of other cool succulent-related stuff (check out the succulent display wall below, for example) but for the most part, I think I'm going to need to keep an eye out for cactus and succulent shows, since they're probably more likely to have the kinds of plants and pots in which I'm most interested.