Garden Status in Spring

I walked through my garden, not to pull weeds or pursue other tasks, just to see what was happening. A routine status check can be useful in establishing priorities for the next stretch of sunny days.

Roses

These plants are coming into bloom rather late, compared to roses in warmer areas. The Monterey Bay Rose Society held their annual Rose Show May 4th when my roses were definitely not ready for display. They seem to be coming along just fine, however.

I always anticipate the display of one rose in my garden, a very vigorous rambler (R. mulligani) that blooms in the summer, after other roses. As described by Christine Allen of Great Plant Picks, “Although its individual flowers are small and single, they appear in such huge, pendent trusses that they cover the entire plant and cast their fruity fragrance far across the garden.”  

Irises

The irises also seem to be a bit later than usual. The American Rose Society’s annual convention (San Ramon, late April) included a tour of Jim & Irene Cummins’ exceptional iris garden in Scotts Valley. The garden was dazzling as always and the tour was successful, but not all the plants had reached their bloom peak. In my garden, I’ve developed a swath of a prize-winning bright yellow iris, That’s All Folks, with a complementary swath of blue irises. The idea worked only half-way because the blue irises didn’t bloom at the same time. Maybe next year.

IIris and Geranium Blossoms
Hybrid Tall Bearded Iris ‘That’s All Folks’, with Geranium maderense in background

The Monterey Bay Iris Society had its annual show on May 4th (same day as the rose show), so my yellow irises at least were blooming on schedule. Iris expert Joe Ghio reported an exceptional year for irises, with peak blooms around May 10th.  He provided these culture tips for this time:

“Snap out or cut out spent stalks and dig pesky weeds. If you want to give your irises a bit of a boost, sprinkle a LIGHT, emphasis light, application of a balanced fertilizer. You can give a regular watering up to late June.”

I will do that!

Lavender

My Mediterranean Basin garden has numerous lavenders, which are iconic plants for that part of the world. Happily, they were cut back at the right time and are now setting a proliferation of buds that will provide color and fragrance during the coming weeks. Lavenders perform reliably and well when they are treated well. The recommended treatment includes full sun, minimal irrigation, and timely pruning, twice each year. The first pruning is promptly after the first flowering, and the second is in late August after the last flush has faded. Cut back about two-thirds of the plant’s height and do not cut into the woody part of the stems.

Salvias

I wrote recently about a seasonal hard pruning of the many salvias in my garden. I did not prune some selected plants for various reasons, but the pruned plants now are already generating new growth. When they bloom, I will resume my project to identify and map the plants that I don’t already recognize.

Meanwhile, I have been learning about the pruning requirements for four kinds of salvias:

  • Deciduous or semi-evergreen types with soft stems, e.g., Mexican Bush Sage (S. leucantha);
  • Deciduous, woody-stem varieties, e.g., Autumn Sage (S. greggii);
  • Evergreen, woody species (the largest category in my garden), e.g., Karwinski’s Sage (S. karwinskii); and
  • Rosette-growing, herbaceous perennials, e.g., Hummingbird Sage (S. spathacea).

For more on this topic, visit the Flowers of the Sea website. Very helpful!

Some time ago, for my South African garden, I planted a Beach Salvia (S. Africana-lutea), one of the evergreen and woody kind. It grew enormously wide among other plants, so I decided to cut it back severely and control its re-growth. After some serious pruning, we discovered that some of the plant’s lower branches had rooted and established new plants, so that its several offspring created the overall width. I now need to reduce my Beach Salvia grove to create room for other plants.

I have another South African salvia, Blue African Sage (S. Africana caerulea), which doesn’t grow quite as large as the Beach Salvia. One can control the size and form of both of these South African species at any time of the year by cutting back the oldest wood.

On a future occasion, I will survey the status of several other plants that grow in quantity in my garden. All gardeners should consider an occasional unhurried survey of their gardens to gain familiarity with what is going on and planning for future maintenance and improvement. A well-known principal of workplace supervision is “management by walking around.” The same idea applies to the garden. The good news is that the gardener can conduct this supervisory function while carrying a beverage of your choice.

Renovation of the South African Garden

I recently visited UC Santa Cruz’s Arboretum & Botanic Garden for a preview of plans to renovate the Arboretum’s South African Garden. Executive Director Martin Quigley and Nursery Manager Martin Grantham presented these plans to a small group of interested supporters of the project.

The South African Garden holds the Arboretum’s impressive collection of plants from the Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism. The Arboretum’s other major gardens focus on California, Australia, and New Zealand.

Among the South African Garden’s extraordinary Leucodendrons, Leucospermums, and Proteas, several other native plants also deserve a gardener’s attention. One example is the Bush Aster (Felicia amelloides), which offers striking sky-blue and sunny yellow flowerheads, held well above the leaves.

Purple Blossoms
Bush Aster (Felicia amelloides )

Interested persons can see examples of the Arboretum’s South African collection by visiting the Arboretum’s website and searching for “South Africa.” 

The South African Garden was established early in the Arboretum’s history, which dates from 1964. Its development continued over several decades, but slowed markedly after the retirement of Ron Arruda, then the curator of the South African Collection. Due to budgetary limitations, a new curator could not be hired, so other staff provided minimal maintenance and development.

The arrival of Martin Quigley, three years ago, and Martin Grantham, last fall, brought a combination of vision and expertise to the South African Garden. Quigley brought a strong background in botany, horticulture, landscape architecture, plant ecology, and related fields. Grantham, a new addition to the staff, but about nine years ago he produced impressive “observations and ideas” for the South African Collection. Together, they soon generated an imaginative plan for renovation of the South African Garden.

Over the years, the South African Garden had developed a remarkable collection, but the typical visitor could easily feel confused by its arrangement of unfamiliar plants. While there might be a horticultural rationale to the grouping of plants, each plant seemed unrelated to its surroundings.

One notable exception has been the grouping of several species of Cape Heaths (the large genus Erica), comprising perhaps the largest collection of these plants outside South Africa. The Erica collection provides a valuable opportunity to compare diverse species and enjoy their flowering in late winter/early spring and mid-summer.

The renovation plan for the South African Garden envisions several focal displays. Visitors can anticipate these unique presentations:

Silver Tree Grove. These small trees (Leucadendron argenteum) are relatively short-lived, but their silvery, silky leaves provide a memorable effect. A gathering of these trees will be quite charming,

Pelargonium Field. Gardeners often have been confused by the relationship of geraniums and pelargoniums. There are historical reasons for the confusion, but today’s taxonomists tell us that these are different genera within the family Geraniaceae. Here’s a short explanation from geraniumguide.com: “Geraniums are herbaceous perennials of the Northern hemisphere that can be also found in Africa and South America. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, are subshrubs from the southern hemisphere and occur naturally almost entirely within South Africa.” The Arboretum’s plan includes the creation of a Pelargonium Field that will both help to identify true pelargoniums and suggest the great variety of plants that are native to the Cape Floristic Region. It also will provide a pleasing display of colorful blossoms and attractive foliage.

Restio Maze. One of the exceptional plants of South Africa are the members of the genus Restio, which includes more than 160 species. These are rush-like plants that likely “originated more than 65 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, when the southern continents were still part of Gondwana.” This genus includes a great variety of species, as one might expect. The Arboretum’s plan includes the development of a maze comprised of several different Restios, designed to showcase the variations within the genus and offer visitors an opportunity to commune with these dramatic plants. A maze and a labyrinth differ in important ways. By some accounts, a maze presents a challenging puzzle, while a labyrinth offers tranquility. We will have to discover the Arboretum’s Restio Maze when it ready for visitors. Today, it consists of plowed circles defining a coming attraction that is fifty-feet in diameter, with ten-foot wide pathways. Fortunately, Restios grow relatively fast, so it won’t be very long before we could explore this maze. It surely will be the first of its kind!

This plan for renovation of the Arboretum’s South African Garden is still evolving, so expect to see additional features in the coming months. The Arboretum has a long history as a horticultural treasure for the Monterey Bay area and California, and this new arc of development will increase its value.

Meanwhile, the South African Garden continues to invite a casual stroll on a pleasant day, and a resource for broadening one’s horticultural experience. The Garden’s plants all grow well in the Monterey Bay area, and a selection is available for purchase at the Arboretum’s garden store.

The Appeal of the Sticky Monkey Flower

Today’s column is about a California native shrub that widely available, and a fine addition to the garden.

The plant is the Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus, or Diplacus aurantiacus). Its common name reflects the feelings of some very imaginative observers that the plant’s blossom resembles a monkey’s face.

Orange blossoms
Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) and Pacific Coast Iris ‘Canyon Snow’ (Iris douglasiana)

The reference to “sticky” refers to a naturally occurring phenolic resin in the leaves, which deters the feeding of certain butterfly larvae, and also helps the plant retain water in dry environments.

The leaves of some other plants can become sticky from the sugary honeydew secreted by aphids and some other insects. Yet other plants can be sticky naturally because their leaves and stems have tiny hairs that can cling to passers-by and help the plant to spread. An exemplar of this survival strategy is a weed with many names, including Cleavers (Galium aparine).

The Sticky Monkey Flower grows up to four feet tall. Its blossoms are tubular at the base and about one inch long. They are most commonly a light orange in color, but some varieties display other shades, ranging from white to red.

This plant can grow in full sun or partial shade and will be most floriferous in bright sun, presenting an attractive display over a long period from late winter through summer.

Like many California native plants, Sticky Monkey Flower thrives in a wide range of difficult soil types when good drainage is provided. It requires little or no irrigation during the Monterey Bay area’s summer-dry climate.

This plant occurs in many different vegetation habitats and is compatible with a large number of other California native plant communities. For this reason, it offers considerable versatility in the landscape, and can have many other native plants as suitable companions.

The Sticky Monkey Flower attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and also resists deer.

Maintenance recommendations include installing deep organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds, pinching back new growth in spring to maintain compact form, and deadheading spent blossoms to foster flower production.

There are at least six species within the genus Mimulus (or Diplacus) and a growing number of hybrid cultivars. For an overview of the genus, visit the Las Pilatus Nursery website (www.laspilatas) and search for “monkey flowers.”

The Sticky Monkey Flower is a good example of a California native plant that offers ready availability at local garden centers, low maintenance, and very good “garden-worthiness.” If you have been hesitant about using California native plants in your landscape, this plant could change your mind.

A timely opportunity to discover new plants for your garden occurs this weekend, at the annual Mother’s Day Sale of Cabrillo College’s Horticulture Department. This academic program is a fine horticultural resource for the Monterey Bay area, and this sale is a both a good shopping event and an important fund-raiser for the Hort. Dept. For information including plant list, search the internet for “Cabrillo plant sale.” Include California native plants in your garden!

Current Trends in Garden Design

As I was planning to visit nine exemplary hone gardens in the Santa Cruz area, in a tour organized by the UCSC Arboretum and Botanic Garden, I happened upon a popular garden magazine’s summary of ten current trends in residential garden design.

Most of these trends related to indoor gardening and flower arranging, while eight relate to outdoor gardening. I became interested in how those eight trends related to the Arboretum’s garden tour. Two question came to mind:

  • Do these trends actually appear in these community gardens?
  • Do these community gardens actually reflect the trends?

I managed to visit six gardens during the day. I won’t identify the gardens because they are not now on tour, but each garden was unique, nicely designed and developed, and very well presented for this special event.

Here are my observations, with reference to eight reported trends for outdoor gardens.

The Keeping It Low Maintenance

Everyone, it seems, wants a low-maintenance garden, and some strategies certainly can lower the workload, but gardens that shine for visitors show the result of ongoing maintenance plus “sprucing up” for tour day. All the gardens on this tour were neatly maintained: there were no weeds, diseased or neglected plants, or unsightly debris. Congratulations to the garden owners! My findings don’t negate the published interest in low maintenance, but it suggests that low maintenance doesn’t align with garden tours.

Creating a Staycation Spot

This trend focuses on recreational resources in the garden, e.g., outdoor kitchen, furniture, fire features, decorative lighting, etc. All of the gardens I visited included a table and chairs, and some had a basic barbeque set-up, but none appeared to have been planned for a “staycation.” People who invest significant money and effort in their gardens apparently prefer to explore new environments on occasion, rather than to switch from gardener to vacationer in the same place.

Structures as Focal Points

This trend relates to the development of garden structures, e.g., sheds, walls, and swimming pools. One of the six gardens had a small greenhouse and a hot tub, and another had an impressive collection containerized plants mounted on a fence, but there were no other structures serving as focal points. Some gardens include well-designed paths and retaining walls, but these were more functional than architectural focal points.

Private, Secluded Places

This trend envisions a smallish space dedicated to seating for two people, with perhaps a water feature, a wall or plant screen to separate it from the garden, or an arbor or pergola to create an enclosure. I saw one seating area that provided such seclusion; the others were positioned to support viewing and enjoying the garden. Avid gardeners enjoy being in their gardens, rather than relaxing in seclusion.

Notable First Impressions

This was a toss-up. Of the six gardens, three had front yards that were very nicely designed and presented fine streetside impressions. The other three had well-done front yards, but more impressive back yards. Clearly, the private, backyard garden area had the higher priority. Such differences could result by chance, differences in the available gardening space, or particular interest in impressing neighbors and passers-by.  Good arguments could be made for both front yard and backyard priorities.

Food in Landscapes of All Sizes

This magazine article envisioned a trend for including edibles in a primarily ornamental garden, whether in containers or raised beds, or mingled with perennial plants. There are interesting ideas for combining edibles and ornamentals, and good books on the creative design of vegetable gardens. Still, I saw vegetable gardening in only two of these six tour gardens, and in both cases, veggies were separated from ornamentals. To be fair, three of the gardens I did not visit reportedly included vegetables and fruit trees, so this tour evidently demonstrated this trend rather well.

Investing in Quality Furniture

Is this a trend? I saw attractive and serviceable garden furniture in good condition, but not the artisan-created teak items or classic showpieces like a Lutyens bench. It has been said that no garden can have too much seating, but gardeners with tour-worthy gardens might have more interest in the selection, placement and cultivation of plants than in the display of sophisticated furnishings.  

Giving Back with Gardens

This trend emphasizes gardening that is friendly to wildlife and the environment. The forms of such friendliness include providing wildlife habitats, supporting pollinators, using organic methods to control weeds and pests and not poisoning wildlife or the environment. This trend might be understood also to include using water wisely, in keeping with water conservation priorities. These tour gardens were highly compatible with this trend, with multiple sites featuring drought tolerant plants, e.g., Mediterranean climate specimens and succulents, and avoiding synthetic chemicals. I did not, however, see wildlife habitats, e.g., bird houses, brush heaps, bird baths or bird feeders.  Perhaps I just didn’t notice.

My conclusion is that the gardens on the Arboretum’s garden tour exemplify most of the design trends featured in this one magazine’s overview of 2019’s garden trends. These gardens are quite trendy!

We are now in garden tour season, so include at least one tour in your schedule, and enjoy the opportunity to discover unfamiliar plants and new approaches to garden design. An exceptional opportunity is St. Philips’ annual Garden Tour and English Tea Luncheon on May 11, 2019. For information: http://www.stphilip-sv.net.

When you embark upon a garden tour, you might find it interesting to review each garden with reference someone’s perspective on current design trends.

You also could expand this strategy by adding your own thoughts about garden design trends. For example, my design priorities include thematic design for sections of the garden, and landscaping with swaths of selected plants, in contrast to collections of single specimens.

Developing a Chilean Garden

Gardening can be made interesting by implementing a thematic plan for part or all of the site. There are many possible themes to choose from: a favorite color or color combination; a plant genus (e.g., roses, irises, dahlias, etc.); a design style (e.g., desert, tropical, etc.); or whatever interests you.

My garden has beds dedicated to each of the five summer-dry climate regions: Mediterranean Basin, South Africa, Australia, California, and Chile.

The world’s summer-dry regions occur within two bands: between 30°and 45° north, and between 30°and 45° south. Chile is a very narrow, very long country, extending from a latitude of 17° south to Cape Horn at 56°. The country extends well beyond the summer-dry region,

The county’s flora have been described in terms of three zones, the desert provinces of the north, central Chile, and the humid regions of the south. Central Chile’s summer-dry region extends from about 30°to about 36° south, making that region comparable in size to that of California, which extends from about 32°to about 42° north.

With only a little searching, a gardener can find good plants from the first four of these regions; finding Chilean plants can be challenging. That search can be motivated by the potential of discovering unusual botanical treasures. 

A few Chilean plants are readily available in garden centers. The most familiar example, perhaps, is the so-called Peruvian Lily (Alstromeria sp.). There are some 122 species within this South American genus, and only four are native to Peru, while at least thirty-three are native to central Chile, which is the center of distribution for this genus. We’re told that Chileans take offense at having their plant called Peruvian Lily!

Other Chilean plants that are not hard to find include (in no particular order): Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa), Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae), Chilean Puya (Puya chilensis), Shining Pink Rock Purslane (Calendrina spectabilis), Maiden’s Wreath (Francoa sonchifolia), Hummingbird Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), Purpletop Vervain (Verbena bonariensis), Chilean Potato Vine (Solanum Crispum), and others.

Interested gardeners can find descriptions of these plants by searching the Internet for their botanical names.

A less common Chilean plant that is particularly attractive in early spring, is the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia). This is an upright shrub that produces “a profusion of orange to magenta-pink flowers that have a long tube with a flaring mouth held on thin pedicels so the flowers dangle beneath” (quoting San Marcos Growers). The blossoms are “outrageous,” but the plant sprawls in a way that calls for staking. The older stems can be pruned to improve the plant’s overall form, but because blossoms are produced on the previous season’s growth, pruning should be done only after flowering.

Chilean blossoms
Blossom of Cantua buxifolia (Sacred Flower of the Incas)
Chilean shrub
An unruly shrub: Cantua buxifolia

My continuing quest for interesting these plants focuses currently on the Chilean Bellflower (Lapageria rosea), a beautiful flowering vine that is Chile’s national flower. A few nurseries list this plant on their websites, but it’s generally out of stock.

Persistence should produce results!

Adopting a theme of your choice could provide an alternative to the usual spontaneous approach to gardening in favor of the satisfaction of design coherence and the appeal of an ongoing hunt for botanical treasures.

Time to Prune Salvias

Salvias are sometimes called “super shrubs,” at least in this column, because they are easy to cultivate; diverse in form, size and blossom color; and well suited for gardens in summer-dry climates, like that of the Monterey Bay area.

Many salvias have blossoms in shades of red and blue. Some uncommon varieties have white or yellow blossoms. A very uncommon species is the Beach Salvia (Salvia Africana-lutea), which has rusty orange upper petals that turn to a russet-brown color.

Salvia shrub
Salvia africana-lutea (Beach Salvia)

These form, size and blossom color qualities have supported the development of a growing collection of salvias in my garden, to the point that I have lost track of the number of plants, and of their names. I do recognize the genus salvia when I come upon it; on a good day I can name several of the cultivars. My digital files include just about all these plants in my garden, and I do intend to map their locations, one of these days, as part of the ongoing mapping project.

The recent annual Hard Pruning of the Salvias in my garden required substantial help. This necessary pruning process both supports and hinders the mapping objective.

When salvias grow closely together their branches intermingle and merge into a botanical mass that defies mapping. Gardeners who grow salvias know that they benefit from hard pruning in late winter or early spring, as new growth appears at the base of the plant. Hard pruning reduces the plants to six-to-twelve inches tall. This treatment counters ranginess and promotes bushiness, which adds to their value in the landscape. It also supports mapping by enabling the determined mapper to distinguish each plant from its neighbors.

Many salvias bloom throughout the year in our moderate climate, and many have distinctive leaf forms that can be essential clues for identifying the cultivars. These characteristics certainly help in mapping, but hard pruning hinders the process by removing all blossoms and perhaps all leaves.

The ideal time for mapping a mature salvia bed, then, occurs after pruning (while the plants are small in size) and after they begin producing leaves and blooms (which happens in early spring). Salvias’ growth cycles differ somewhat, so the plants are not all in lock-step, but this strategy should work fairly well.

Another consideration related to hard pruning salvias: after plants have been pruned seasonally, they are most visible as individual plants, ready for transplanting. As with any plant, transplanting should be done as promptly to avoid drying the roots. A good practice is to dig the hole for the plant’s new location before digging the plant. This strategy avoids any lag time between listing the plant and placing it in the new hole.

Salvias can be propagated also during the pruning season through stem cuttings.

Salvia plants also can be divided at pruning time, but this method is not recommended generally because it leaves each division with a minimal boot structure.

Finally, salvia propagation can be done from seeds collected in the early fall, i.e., around September.

One or several salvias can be botanical assets in your garden.

Plant Sale Strategies

This weekend presents a seasonal high point for avid gardeners in the Monterey Bay area. Marking the beginning of the spring planting season, three significant plant sales offer a fine array of plants to choose from for your garden.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will offer several categories plants that are native to the Golden State. The sale will be on Saturday, April 13th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 for CNPS members and 12:00 to 4:00 for the public. There is more information about this sale today in this paper’s Home & Garden section. 

The UCSC Arboretum and Botanic Garden will hold its spring plant sale, presenting collections of plants that are native to South Africa, Australia, and California, plus some from other dry summer regions. This sale is at the same time and place as the CNPS sale. The Arboretum  is “a favorite destination for those who love  plants, birds and natural beauty. [It] inspires stewardship of the world’s biodiversity through research, education, and the conservation of rare and extraordinary plants.”

The Arboretum’s sale event includes a first-ever Silent Auction of striking and uncommon plants. This activity will be active from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. , with a last call bidding opportunity at 12:55. Winning bidders must be present at the end of the Auction to claim their winnings.

For lists of the sale plants and the Silent Auction plants, visit the Arboretum’s website and click on the Events calendar.

The CNPS and Arboretum sales are at the Arboretum, the entrance for which is on the west side of the campus, off of Empire Grade. For driving directions, browse to the Arboreum website and click on the Visit menu.

South African Blossom
Leucospermum erubescens Photo by Bill Bishoff

Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society will conduct this weekend’s third plant sale. It will be held at the Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street, San Juan Bautista. This is a two-day event, from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday, April 13th, and 9:00 to 4:00 on Sunday, April 14th. Use Google Maps, MapQuest or other service for driving directions from your location.

The MBACSS event brings together several advanced growers of cactus & succulent plants for a combination of a show of well-grown exceptional plants and a sale of mostly young plants that are easy to cultivate in the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, and that bring a fascinating range of colors and forms to local gardens. Many gardeners enjoy collecting different cultivars within a genus, or a variety of different genera from South Africa or Mexico or other areas of the world. In addition to adding plants for your garden, the plant show provides an unique and enjoyable opportunity to see and study outstanding specimens of cacti and succulents.

The sale also includes creatively designed containers and planting supplies. 

Advanced growers will be available on request to provide growing advice and background information for specific plants.

***

When planning to participate in one of these sales, or visit a garden, or select plants from a mail-order catalog, optimize your satisfaction potential in these three ways.

1. Determine the plants you want or need to add to your garden. Be specific! What is the desired mature size of the plants you want? Will they be in full sun, partial shade, or full shade? What colors would support your design? What plant forms would work best?

2. Decide on the low and high amounts you want to spend. The low amount would be appropriate if only a few plants meet your objectives, and the high amount would serve to control your urges on an occasion was lots of what you see is appealing.

3. When plant lists are available online, as with the Arboretum’s sale, take the time to mark your targets for possible purchase. Unless you are already a plant maven, this process could require “Googling” the plants by name. With very rare exceptions, such a search will yield good information about the available plants. This preparation is particularly wise for the Arboretum’s Silent Auction.

Your plant search could extend over all three of this weekend’s plant sales.  Enjoy the hunt!

Succulent Events Blooming

As we write this column on April 1st, our focus is on cacti and succulents. Three factors inspire this topic, as summarized in these paragraphs.

Spring Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society.

This local organization, an affiliate of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, presents two of these two-part events each year, in the fall and the spring.

The show presents a variety of exceptional plants, representing prime specimens from several different succulent plant genera. This display provides an extraordinary opportunity for both novice and advanced gardeners of these plants to see mature plants that have been grown expertly and shown aesthetically in selected containers.

The sale brings offerings from multiple growers, all of whom are members of the Society. Generally, several tables each present small and reasonably priced, inviting gardeners to select multiple plants to add to their indoor or outdoor gardens. The sale tables might also include specimens of relatively rare plants. Gardeners with special appreciation for unusual plants often quickly gather up these premium oifferings.

The Society will hold this event on April 13th & 14th, at San Juan Bautista’s Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street. The accompanying photos can be spotted on flyers posted in garden centers and other public places throughout the Monterey Bay area. Photography by Fred Valentine.

Succulent plant in container
Mammillaria blossfeldiana grown by Elton Roberts
succulent plant
Boophone disticha grown by John and Lisa Bloss

Succulent Blossoms on Stamps

To draw attention to the Society’s upcoming show & sale, the United States Postal Service has released ten new First Class stamps depicting the blossoms of ten cacti. Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamps with photographs taken by John P. Schaefer. Visit usps.com/stamps, and scroll to “Cactus Flowers” for more information, including images of the stamps. The many growers of succulent plants will appreciate these stunning stamps.

Succulent Blooms by Month

Some gardeners have impressive awareness of the timing of events in their gardens, particularly when various plants burst into bloom. I am not one of those gardeners, but one who typically discovers new blooms with surprise and delight. A gardener who knows when succulent plants bloom has helped those of us with less awareness with a monthly series of photographic collections of succulent plants in bloom.

The gardener is Geoff Stein, who describes himself as an “obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.” To date, he has produced photographic overviews of succulents in bloom in December, January, February, March and April. The April issue of this series extends to nineteen pages and includes scores of photos.

Geoff Stein is a prolific garden writer who has created scores of lengthy articles on a range of topics within his interest in “tropical and desert plants.” Each of these pieces includes numerous photographs of the plants under discussion. Some of his articles are broad in scope, e.g.,, “Introduction to Dyckias and Hechtias,” while others deal with specific cultivars, e.g., “Easy Succulents: Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’.” For a list of his articles go to https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/ and search for “Geoff Stein.” His writings are definitely worth exploring.

***

Admittedly, the USPS produced its Cactus Flower stamps in recognition of the growing interest in gardening with cacti and succulents, not specifically for the Society’s Show & Sale. April Fool!

Still, that event will be a pleasure for avid gardeners interested in these fascinating plants.

Garden Shows & Sales

Each gardening year includes shows and sales of favored plants, hosted by local garden groups. This column describes these recurring events, organized by three basic scheduling models. Specific dates vary a bit each year because of various factors, so this overview provides only a heads-up for interested gardeners to be on the alert as each date approaches. Locations are mostly the same, year–to–year, but changes happen.

Following this overview, we’ll focus on four upcoming big events in April.

Blooming + Planting Model

In this model, shows occur at the peak bloom period, so growers can display their best blooms, spectators can “OOO” and “AHH,” and thoughtful gardeners can select varieties to add to their gardens during the next planting season.

The sales then coincide with planting season. The Monterey Bay Iris Society (MBIS) and the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society (MBDS) provide clear examples of planting season sales.

  • MBIS: show late April; rhizome sale early August
  • MBDS: show late August; tuber sale early April

Show & Sale Combo Model

Some plants grow year-round, so their shows and sales can be combined on the same weekend. Exemplars of this model include Santa Cruz Orchid Society (SCOS), Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society (MBACSS), and Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai (SCBK)

  • SCOS: annual show & sale early March
  • MBACSS: spring show & sale mid April; fall show & sale early October
  • SCBK: annual show & sale mid April

Show or Sale Only Model

A third pattern includes either show or sale, but not both. The Monterey Bay Rose Society (MBRS), the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), UCSC Arboretum & Botanic Garden (UCSC-Arb), and Cabrillo College Horticulture Department (Cabrillo Hort) follow this pattern.

  • MBRS: annual show early May; continuing show at Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Watsonville
  • CNPS, Santa Cruz Chapter: Spring sale early April; Fall sale early October;
  • CNPS. Monterey Chapter: annual wildflower exhibit
  • UCSC-Arb: Spring sale early April; Fall sale early October; continuing show at the Arboretum & Botanic Garden
  • Cabrillo Hort: Mother’s Day Sale, early May
  • Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz: Fungus Fair, early January

Monterey Bay Dahlia Society’s Annual Tuber Sale

If you visited the Society’s annual show at the Museum of Art & History last August, you would have enjoyed the great diversity of the array of dahlia blossoms. This plant offers an extraordinary range of blossom colors, sizes, and forms, making it a source of endless fascination and a great temptation to become a collector. The blossoms can be appreciated both individually and as a grand display of natural specimens of botanical beauty.

As you anticipate spring in your garden, you could be thinking about adding new blooming plants for summer and fall color splashes. The dahlia is an excellent bloomer to add to your garden, and now is the right time to find dahlias to plant.

The Monterey Bay Dahlia Society will hold its annual tuber and plant sale on Saturday, April 6th, 2019, from 9:00 –11:00 a.m., at Deer Park Shopping Center in Aptos, on the Center’s upper level, near the Red Apple Café.  This sale provides a fine opportunity for gardeners to select from a wide variety of cultivars that have been grown locally, and benefit from good prices. Prospective buyers should arrive early, as the tubers are sold quickly.

Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai 31th Annual Exhibit

April 6 – 7, 2019 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. both days at †he Museum of Art and History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz. The highlight of each day’s show will be at 2:00 p.m. when Bonsai Masters, Mike Pistello (Saturday) and Sensei Katsumi Kinoshita (Sunday) will demonstrate the techniques for creating an artistic tree from common nursery stock. The newly created bonsai tree will then be offered in a raffle drawing along with other trees and items donated by club members. These trees have been cared for, designed, wired, and potted in bonsai pots so individuals winning the trees can begin enjoying this art form immediately.

Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society’s Spring Show & Sale

The Society will hold this event on April 13th & 14th, at San Juan Bautista’s Community Hall, 10 San Jose Street. We’ll have more about this increasingly popular show & sale before that date, but mark your calendar now.

California Native Plant Society, Monterey Chapter’s 58th Wildflower Show

This amazing, eye-opening event will be held April 19-21, 2019 at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, 65 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove. While visiting nature’s bounty in person is an incomparable experience, this show provides a unique opportunity to study and appreciate California’s wildflower treasures without trampling them.

If you are a gardener with broad horticultural interests, you develop your own calendar for benefitting from the creative offerings of our local garden groups.

Meet the Bromeliads

By happenstance, my thoughts turn this week to bromeliads. This plant family includes fifty-one genera, almost all of which are native to the tropical Americas. The most familiar member of this family is the pineapple, which certainly has value as an ornamental, but we will focus here on the bromeliads that we can enjoy in our homes or gardens.

There is considerable diversity within the Bromeliad family. Earlier this week, Brian Kemble provided a photographic tour of Puyas, which he calls “Bromeliad Royalty,” for the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. Kemble is the long-time curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and a student of, and prolific writer about, succulent plants.

The Puya genus includes about 230 species, the largest of which is Puya raimondii, which can reach 10 feet tall in vegetative growth with a flower spike 33 feet tall. Other Puyas range around more garden-friendly sizes. In Australia, several years ago, I had the opportunity to examine and photograph a grove of the Chilean Puya berteroniana, called the Turquoise Puya. This plant grows up to 10 feet tall, and display “waxy, metallic blooms of the most unearthly emerald-turquoise. “

Blossom of the Turquoise Puya (Puya berteroniana)
Puya berterionana brsnch

I have a young specimen of this plant in my garden, planted with enough space to accommodate its mature size. Once well established, however, it could spread into a cluster of plants that will require stern control.

The Puya is one of the terrestrial Bromeliads, which was the topic of Bromeliad collector Dennis Cathcart’s recent presentation for the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society. He focused on the popular Cryptanthus (Earth Star), a native of Brazil. Other terrestrial Bromeliads include prickly Dyckia (no common name) and Hechtia (False Agave).

The Bromeliad family includes several epiphytes, including the popular genus Tillandsia (Airplants), which includes 650 species of evergreen perennial flowering plants native to northern Mexico and southeastern United States. These must qualify as the most easily maintained plants in existence, making them favorites of dorm-dwellers and other occasional gardeners.

A significant species within the Tillandsia genus is Spanish Moss (T. usneoides), which is the smallest Bromeliad. It is native to southeastern United States and other areas, and grows on larger trees in tropical and subtropical climates.

An epiphytic Bromeliad that I enjoy in my garden is one of the 255 species within the Aechmea genus: A. gamosepala (Matchstick Bromeliad). This epiphytic plant is is often grown in a container with some soil. It is easily propagated from offsets that it produces easily. The plant blooms in mid-winter, so my plant is out of season at the time of this writing. The photograph shows a blossom from the San Diego County Fair, where it won (not surprisingly) first place for the best multi-colored bloom.

Blossom of the Matchstick Bromeliad
(Aechmea gamosepala)

The Bromeliad family has a great diversity of form and texture and includes the most unusual and striking blossoms within the universe of ornamental plants. Many of them can be grown without extraordinary effort in the Monterey Bay area. These plants are commonly available in garden centers, but some varieties are offered locally from time to time, and many can be found by searching through the offerings of mail-order suppliers.