- Author: JoEllen P Myslik
Succulents, ahhh succulents … the subject of my final presentation for my Master Gardener certification. It seemed like such a simple straight-forward topic. But once my ‘presentation partner’ and I started delving into details, it became quite clear that it is a very HUGE and broad topic! So then our task became, “how do we narrow this down to focus on something informative and interesting?”
So after much research, including nearly every book about the broad subject of succulents (or at least it felt that way!), we decided to provide an overview of the 3 types and then show examples of each type – focusing on one in particular, the seemingly ‘most popular’ or certainly prevalent in this area, the stonecrop family.
I will begin by quoting from a document provided by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek:
Succulents. Almost everyone is familiar with the term. Yet questions such as “is that Aloe a member of the succulent family?” reveal basic misconceptions on the part of many people as to just what a succulent is. The core of the problem here is that the term “succulent” is merely a descriptive term and not a scientific classification. Thus any plant that has evolved swollen water-storing tissues as a protection against desiccation is succulent by definition, regardless of what family it belongs to. A few families, such as the Crassulaceae (the stonecrop family, which includes plants such as the Hen-and-Chicks and jade trees) are composed entirely of succulents. But in many other cases, succulence occurs only in certain groups of a family of largely non-succulent plants.
The three types of succulents are leaf, stem and root, and as you might surmise from above (or perhaps already know), the plants store water in each of these areas, and in some cases two areas. An example of this is the jade tree, which is both a leaf succulent and a root succulent. And as you can see in the picture above, succulents come in all shapes and colors, which can add a lot of beauty to your garden or landscape.
I think one of the biggest lessons that we learned in researching this topic is that succulents are extremely forgiving and are therefore a great choice for any gardener … beginning gardeners will love the ease of planting them (break off a piece from your neighbor’s beautiful plant — with their permission of course! — and just put that right into the ground), and seasoned gardeners will appreciate their beauty and variety. Plus in these times of water-wise landscaping everyone will appreciate the fact they don’t require a lot of water very often. So, whether around your property or in pots, my research shows that succulents are nearly a perfect planting option!
Oh, but a word of caution, don’t be fooled by these beauties below as I almost was …. the invasive Ice Plant of the Aizoaceae Family. This plant offers a variety of beautiful flowers, tolerates blazing sun and spreads quickly, but the latter is exactly why you should avoid it! It will take over your entire yard, so buyers beware!
- Author: Betty Homer
During my teenage years, the head lifeguard at the pool that I volunteered at, used to bring a group of us teenagers to picnic and swim at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek each summer. As such, I have always associated Heather Farm with those memories, not realizing that Heather Farm also included a beautiful 6-acre garden, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently.
Like The Ruth Bancroft Garden that I blogged about recently (also in Walnut Creek, just minutes from The Gardens at Heather Farm), Heather Farm Park and The Gardens at Heather Farm were named after the original ranch located on the very site, and fancifully, the ranch owners' prized race horse, King Heather. There are 20+ gardens of varying sizes and themes in all, managed completely without the use of pesticides. To give you an idea as to what you should expect to see and experience, the following is a list of gardens/plots on site: The Ruth Howard Entrance Garden, Native Plant Garden, Diablo Ascent Garden, Tree Grove, Ash Tree Alley, Stroll Garden, Meadow Garden, Heritage Garden, Mother’s Garden, Black Pine Garden, Ward Garden, Cowden Rose Garden, Waterfall Garden, Rockery, Butterfly Garden, Mural Garden, Children’s Garden, Riparian Garden, Water Conservation Garden, Sensory Garden, and the Blue Star Memorial Garden.
Some highlights of The Gardens include the very beautiful and showy Cowden Rose Garden that takes center stage the moment you enter The Gardens (Tip: now is a great time when everything is in bloom!). Equally beautiful, but more understated, is the shade garden. There is a section for California native plants, a tree grove, and a small patch which integrates edible plants with ornamentals—always one of my perennial favorites.
With how beautiful and well-maintained The Gardens is, it is hard to believe that the grounds are managed by a volunteer-based nonprofit employing a small part-time staff. It would seem that an army would be necessary to maintain the site as well as they do.
Now is a wonderful time to visit as most everything appears to be in bloom. So on one of those warm afternoons where you are at a loss for ideas of what to do, where to go, consider packing a picnic lunch and visiting The Gardens at Heather located at 1540 Marchbanks Drive, Walnut Creek, California. For more information, see http://gardenshf.org/.
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
The Children’s Memorial Garden is a small garden (17x27 feet) in front of the Solano County Health and Social Service Dept. on Beck Avenue in Fairfield. Solano County Master Gardeners created this lovely garden in 2007. Carolyn Allen designed the garden and a crew of Master Gardeners dug holes and placed 1 and 5 gallon plants. The garden has evolved into a mini-sanctuary which the Solano Master Gardeners maintain. It is an educational garden with signs naming unusual plants and pests (such as spittle bugs).
On Friday, April 26th, the annual memorial ceremony was held in front of the garden. The Children’s Memorial flag had been displayed over the garden all month. The flag shows a chain of children holding hands with one child missing.
A group gathered consisting of county workers, Supervisor Linda Seifert, a couple of Master Gardeners, a minister and some loved ones to honor the twenty-two children in Solano County who died in 2012. The list consisted of two male teenagers who had died as the result of gunshot wounds, two female teenagers from an auto accident, three children as results of medical complications and fifteen babies (from SIDS and premature births). What made this event visually poignant was seeing the blanket with shoes from each child displayed, including the tiny knitted socks belonging to the babies.
Everyone attending was invited to fill out a cardboard cutout of a child attached to a stick and place it in the soil. Many wrote their message and silently placed their personal memorial. Later this month as the Master Gardeners work in the garden, the faded and water worn paper tributes will be collected as part of the maintenance of the garden.
- Author: Trisha Rose
Almost by accident I have a multi-stemmed clump of artichokes growing at the front of my yard. This great big shrub was a transplant from an awkward space right at the edge of my driveway. I think it was a donation of a bird passing by, or some long lost endeavor from a previous homeowner. Anyway, it is thriving and continues to surprise me. I was asked the other day by one of my neighbors what kind of fertilizer I use. Pause, kind of an awkward moment, as I am sort of a lazy gardener. In the past, I have stopped by Starbucks to pick up their used coffee grounds. The soil in the front garden is clay, of course, and mine is very compacted. I figure that the coffee grounds might help loosen the soil and allow more air and moisture to reach down to the roots of the struggling plants. I also drag the grass clippings from the back yard and spread them across this bed. But beyond these 2 amendments, nothing else has contributed to the prolific offerings we have enjoyed in the last couple of years.
When I dug up the driveway volunteer, I really gave little thought to the outcome. If it made it, fine. No big investment besides a little time with my shovel and some occasional water.
In fact, at the time I considered eating artichokes hardly worth the bother. The leaves frequently were so tough, the only enjoyment was when I finally got to the heart of the choke. Maybe good-tasting, but not so healthy. I hadn't really learned to cook the chokes well and thought smothered in butter or mayonnaise was the way to go.
My mother didn't cook artichokes for us until my early teens, forget the year. It must have been one of those trendy dishes that popped up in the 60's. Not that she was a great cook, but she did like to experiment. So now that I have so many chokes, I figure I should spend a little time and give these little jewels some respect. I have found that although the leaves can bring pleasure scrapping the flesh away, the heart is where the bang is. I now steam the chokes in water with the juice of one of my Meyer lemons. I then toss them in a marinade of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, once I trim the leaves and thistle. Before serving I simmer the chokes with a good bit of the stem in a light marinara sauce. This results in a much healthier alternative to the mayo or butter versions.
Inevitably we tire of chokes and I leave a few on the shrub to let them develop the beautiful purple choke flowers. The artichoke, like many of my favorite plants, originated in the Mediterranean. It is rather a large coarse looking shrub that reaches a good 6 feet in height and width, although Sunset says 4'x 6'. The shrub grows rather quickly in the spring. One day I just notice, oh there is the artichoke shrub again. Supposedly, once I harvest the last of this first crop, I should cut the main stem an inch above the ground. New sprouts are supposed to appear and produce a second crop. No harm in trying, maybe I'll get more chokes later this summer.
- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
Every yard has its microclimates, pockets of sunlight or shade, dry or wet soil, wind exposure or calm. Learning the microclimates of your yard takes time and watchfulness, and maybe the guidance of certain plants.
Take the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), for instance. We have several of the evergreen perennials planted hither and yon in our back yard. Some were here and already established when we moved in back in 2002. Some I have added over the years. And, quite honestly, some are thriving while others are languishing.
It’s a matter of microclimates, if you ask me. And the ever-changing nature of said microclimates, as the shrubs and trees within grow taller, throwing more shade and taking up more of the irrigation.
For instance, some of our long-established birds of paradise are located in a small “glen” of hypericum, pittosporum and rather aggressive Euphorbia. This spot has a protected eastern exposure, is watered regularly and gets a healthy sprinkling of fertilizer twice a year. Over the years, the birds of paradise have grown larger, but they flower rather weakly. Quite possibly the plants need division; I think the nearby pittosporums sop up all the irrigation and block the spring sun required for flowering.
Just 20 feet away stands another bird of paradise. It is a sight for sore eyes: Three-plus feet tall, healthy gray-green leaves, and a profusion of stunning orange and purple flowers. This plant sits in a sunny spot with a western exposure, next to our tiny back lawn. Its neighbors are New Zealand flax, a Chinese hackberry and a sprinkling of Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) at its feet. Admittedly, this plant is younger than the others, but it stands in full afternoon sun and has survived several frosts over the years.
Go figure. Maybe the birds of paradise are telling me it’s time to rearrange a few microclimates.