- Author: Betty Homer
While running errands in Walnut Creek several years earlier, I drove past a seemingly large public garden nestled in a residential neighborhood, the location of which seemed oddly out of place to me at the time (it turns out that the garden’s location made perfect sense, for the reasons discussed herein). I learned that the name of this garden was, “The Ruth Bancroft Garden,” which caught my eye. Having graduated from UC Berkeley, the name "Bancroft" meant something, as it is the name of one of the major research libraries on campus as well a street that borders the south side of the university--turns out that this association was correct.
I arrived early one Sunday morning to visit this garden. Seeing as I was the only one there, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic docent named Kimberly, was kind enough to take me on a wonderful tour of the garden. Kimberly explained that a 400-acre walnut and pear orchard founded by historian and publisher, Hubert Howe Bancroft, once stood where the Ruth Bancroft Garden is currently situated. In 1939, Hubert Howe Bancroft’s grandson, Philip Bancroft, and his wife, Ruth Bancroft, moved onto the property. Although Mrs. Bancroft had been a long-time, avid gardener, it was not until the 1950’s, that she began collecting succulents.
The family farm continued to operate until the 1960’s, at which time, the property was re-zoned for residential use and sold to developers who were developing the town of Walnut Creek. The last walnut orchard on the farm was razed in 1971, at which time, Mr. Bancroft reserved and gave Mrs. Bancroft, 3.5 acres with which to plant her collection of succulents, numbering in the thousands by that point. It is on that very plot that the Ruth Bancroft Garden is now located.
Mrs. Bancroft was in her 60’s when she started planting her succulent garden. Having had architectural training, Mrs. Bancroft designed the planting layout and grouped plants according to her artistic sensibilities rather than on the geographical origin of the plants as one would find in a botanical garden, while Lester Hawkins of Western Hills Nursery, designed the overall layout of the garden beds and paths. Indeed, a visitor to the garden will find a carob tree, a white gum eucalyptus tree, pine trees, etc., planted next to, or near,large agave plants and aloes, because Mrs. Bancroft found the contrast in color, texture, and structure of these diverse plants, pleasing. Mrs. Bancroft continued to work in and on her garden into her 90’s, and the garden continues to be maintained in her spirit to this day (e.g., palm fronds are not trimmed, as that was Mrs. Bancroft’s preference, and small, delicate metal tags reminiscent of a home garden, serve to identify the plants, rather than the heftier, wooden markers commonly found in botanical gardens). In 1989, the Ruth Bancroft Garden became the first preservation project of The Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve exemplary examples of American gardens.
Kimberly said that visitors from near and far come to visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden, because it contains unusual and hard-to-find succulent specimens. Although the garden changes throughout the year, Kimberly recommended visiting in May when many of the plants are in bloom.
For more information, please see http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org/.
- Author: Karen Metz
Last month, the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show delivered its usual spring dose of inspiration. One of the most jaw-dropping exhibits was a huge rotating globe totally covered in succulents. The succulents were grouped in such a way that the different colors represented the continents and oceans. It was magnificent.
I also had the opportunity to attend a lecture on succulent maintenance by Robin Stockwell from Succulent Gardens in Castroville. It turns out, they were the team behind the globe. The finished globe weighs over a ton. The team started planting in late August-early September for the late March show. The globe has about 30,000 cuttings. Someone from his team has sent in paperwork to the Guinness Records organization to see if it might be the largest succulent planting in history.
Aside from the interesting background of the construction of the globe exhibit, Mr. Stockwell gave us many succulent pointers. He suggested a mixture of one part perlite to four parts regular potting mix for a custom succulent potting mixture. He fertilizes with half strength of a balanced fertilizer (he stated it didn't really matter what kind) once a month.
His pruning demonstration led to audible gasps from the crowd as he cut off a lovely Aeonium rosette. He explained that the larger the stem, the longer it would take for the cut to scab over and be ready for planting. He estimated that the piece he had cut would take two weeks before it would be ready to plant. He also suggested cutting the resultant tall stem left on the remaining plant down further so that branching would occur lower down. This cut he advised making at an angle so that water would not accumulate in the cut and lead to rot.
For those of you who didn't make it to the show, Mr. Stockwell mentioned that they are looking into taking the globe on tour. (The logistics of that make my brain spin) Hopefully, in the meantime, the photos will help. I must say though that photos don't do it justice.
- Author: Georgia Luiz
Lately, it seems I've been searching for hard to find cacti and succulents. This can become an interesting rabbit hole, leading to all kinds of eccentric people with passions for obscure species. Passions strong enough to get them to travel thousands of miles and go on expeditions for seeds in the wilds clear across the planet. This is what they do, it is how they roll, and once you get them started, just get comfy, because you'll be there a while. One of these meandering conversations led to the purchase of peyote seeds. No, not that kind. Lophophora williamsii, the infamous hallucinogenic is not legal for sale, which is fine by me, because I don't think I could bear to harvest it. These little cacti (Lophophora diffusa) are so cute. They look like green bellybuttons. And they are easily grown from seed. They popped up in 3 days. 5 out of 6 germinated. So if you're interested in an easy small indoor cacti any species of peyote cacti available for retail is a surprisingly easy choice.
- Author: Trisha Rose
Aeonium canarense of the Crassulaceae family of succulents grows well in our Solano County zone 9 (USDA zone) environment. This variety and others such as Aeonium urbicum originated in the Canary Islands. To tell you the truth, I am only sort of sure the variety I have in my garden is the "canarense" version. From time to time I think it's time to get my plants labelled, I find this shore much easier said than done. Usually there appears a comment somewhere in my search that doesn't quite agree with my specimens. The mother plants do form "dinner plate" sized rosettes and many pups grow from the main and only stem. My plants do closely match the internet site photos well, but the "canarense" variety is supposed to have hairs covering the leaves according to Annie's website (Annie's Annuals). I can "stretch" a description of my leaves to say there is a very fine velvet texture but not something I would call hairs. The other similar variety, "urbicum" grows much taller, the photos show specimen about 3 to 4 feet tall, mine grow more in a massive clump which could reach 3 feet across pretty easily. So for now, I am going to continue to enjoy my "Giant Velvet Rose" dinner plate sized succulents, pluck off the pups, and populate my garden with these bundles of joy and worry about labels later.
- Author: Georgia Luiz
Echeverias are some of my favorite succulents. I think I may be a collector. Their forms affect me in such a positive way. I do wish though, that more varieties were available in the U.S. I made the mistake of randomly searching on line for breath-taking specimens, only to find out later that they're only available in the U.K. or Australia. And they will not ship to me. Oddly enough though, in my random travels to the local big box stores, I find one or two of these hard to find plants for far cheaper. Wow that feels good. It's so strange that in such a fru-fru potentially high end collector's market, I get better results with random scavenging. Maybe I'll make my own hybrids.