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Posts Tagged: Ruth Bancroft Garden

Succulents Suck You In

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!

Variety of succulents. (photo from Recycle Reuse Renew Mother Earth Projects)
Variety of succulents. (photo from Recycle Reuse Renew Mother Earth Projects)

Invasive, indestructable ice plant. (photo by JoEllen Myslik)
Invasive, indestructable ice plant. (photo by JoEllen Myslik)

Posted on Friday, May 17, 2013 at 4:37 PM

A Succulent Lover's Paradise

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/.

agave ruth bancroft
agave ruth bancroft

barrell cactus
barrell cactus

cactus ruth bancroft
cactus ruth bancroft

ruth bancroft tree
ruth bancroft tree

water feature ruth b
water feature ruth b

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 12:01 PM
 
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