This week was very exciting for me. I discovered that there is a garden group in the neighborhood! Not only that, I was invited to join their expedition to the Ruth Bancroft Succulent Garden in Walnut Creek, about an hour and a half away.
It was gloriously sunny and we grabbed our lunch boxes and headed off to this “dry garden” that was started in an old walnut tree orchard in the seventies by Ruth Bancroft who had just turned 60. She remained an active gardener until her late 90s and is now 108. So there you go, proof that gardening keeps you young.
We had a wonderful hostess by name of Linda, who is passionate about the garden and was happy to spend a couple of hours showing us around and telling us about Ruth’s efforts, including importing all the sand and gravel to make the beds with. After a particularly cold winter she had to replace 2000 frost bitten plants, which she managed to do from her home nursery (a woman after my own propagating heart)! Ruth’s garden has the second most diverse collection of succulents in Northern California, after Berkely.
The succulent garden is laid out in a very informal way, with wide, meandering paths and lots of benches under large trees. It’s a garden to relax in. There are no grassy paths in the three and a half-acre garden; the pathways and beds are all gravel and sand, in keeping with the native environments of the plants, which come from dry spots around the world. Given the crazy amount of rain we’re getting, I’m amazed that they’ve kept the grass out.
As the term, “dry garden” suggests, most of the plants in the garden are succulents, comprised of yuccas, agaves, euphorbias, aloes, echeverias, aeoniums and cacti. I did chance upon a few non-succulents, however, like the banksia with one exquisitely colored maroon flower, and a protea straight out of the South African Cape.
We started off our tour of this succulent garden in front of tree-like yuccas and wandered past giant agaves with tall flower stems (sadly, all finished now), all the while scanning the garden floor, covered in miniature, hairy cacti, clustered aeoniums and banks of mini bromeliads.
At waist height we had aloes, agaves, colorful prickly pears and even grevilleas, which were in full bloom.
The best way to study succulents is close up because they have wonderful patterns. Agave leaves imprint their embryonic shapes on themselves as they unfurl and aloes sparkle with jewel-studded edges.
Cacti cover themselves in the most exotic thorn formations and tiny Haworthias have little windows on top to catch the sun. Some crassulas look just like jellybeans and others feel like gummy bears. They really are fascinating.
Colors in a Succulent Garden
Succulents bring a different color dimension to gardens. Even out of flower, they offer up a range of colors from silver, through all the greens to various shades of pink and red. The Agave Americana is grey-green with a bold yellow stripe down the middle of each leaf.
On the way to the hot house, we passed aloes coming into flower in bright reds, whites, oranges and yellows, while, in the hot house, dainty kalenchoes offered up their delicate pink bells. It’s too early yet for cactus flowers, but when they come out, the garden must be a riot of neon.
Most of the plants are out in the elements, able to take the 20 degree F temperatures in winter and the 100 degree F in summer (unlike myself, who doesn’t respond to either extreme very well). What they can’t stand is cold and rain together (in that, we are the same) and they’ve had both this winter. Luckily, thanks to their well draining soil, they all seem to be doing okay and the more tender plants are snug under plastic shelters or in the hot house.
This is the coldest winter we’ve had since moving and I’ve lost quite a few plants to frost, so I was rather taken by their little portable green houses, made with simple wooden frames draped with plastic, which they pop over tender plants in the garden. I think Lionel could whip up a couple of those for me.
We ate our lunch under the trees, near the pond, which is a lovely contrast to the inherent dryness of a succulent garden, enjoying the sunny weather, then pored over the plants on offer in the nursery. It’s amazing how many little succulents you can fit into a shared boot space!
Go visit a garden near you this weekend. If it’s raining, take a look at Landscape Secrets Revealed for plenty of landscaping inspiration. Until next time, happy gardening and don’t forget to take a closer look at succulents! To inspire you, take a look at my other photos in the slider below.
By the way, here is a link to a list of gopher resistant plants: http://www.groundcoversandgardening.com/gopher resistant plants.
If you want to buy plants that deer probably won’t eat, look here.
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