Tag Archives: San Diego County Fair

solana succulents

Indulge me, if you would, a quick return to last month’s San Diego County Fair. There, in the flower show going on in the botanical building, I ran across this one class they had for “most unusual foliage.” Flowers are great, but so are leaves. This little display included a few pretty special examples.

Here you see variegated milk thistle and a fuzzy kalanchoe leaf, thick and rigid like many layers of felt.

This was the winning leaf, from a succulent echevaria. Not the prettiest thing on earth, but it definitely fit the “most unusual” category.

While at the fair I ran across the display I ran across the display mounted by Solana Succulents. The place has been around for a while, but I’d never taken the short trip to north county to check it out. This past weekend I took John up for a quick visit.

Heading north, once you clear the thin atmosphere of Del Mar, you come upon a chain of fun, funky little beach towns on the way up the coast. A visit to Solana Beach and neighboring Encinitas will give you some comfort that the 1960s never went away very far, though they did get a little reinterpreted and gentrified.

Solana Succulents occupies the outdoor spaces of a little house that’s been converted into a shop. I liked its tight, funky feel. You’ll find little succulent gifts, bigger landscape specimens, as well as some wild curiosities that’ll probably keep a connoisseur happy. With so many pointy, sharp plants around, this is no place to take your toddler. But for two people who find succulents totally cool it was a great way to spend part of an afternoon.

Here’s a brief gallery of some of the hundreds of neat plants there. I tried to get the names, but a few plants weren’t labeled. And beyond that there were some unknowns mixed into the offerings.

A cool red aloe or gasteraloe hybrid.
Another aloe or aloe hybrid with cool red summer coloring.
Aloe andongensis, a species with gentle spots and a distinct gold aura.
The fuzzed flower buds of Aloe tomentosa. The plant is a pretty basic green aloe, but these woolly flowers make up for the ordinary plant.
Espostoa lanata: Was it Freud who said, 'Sometimes a succulent is just a succulent?'
One of the variegated forms of Agave lophantha, a nice little spiky bundle not much over a foot across at this point.
A nice boxed euphorbia specimen.
Euphorbia polygona, one of many Old-World euphorbias that mimic New-World cactus.
And a real New World cactus, one of the weirdly blue-colored species in the genus Pilosocereus. The owner needed to look up the exact species, but he said it wasn't the more common azureus.
I really flaked on the name of this one. Maybe one of the stapelia relatives? EDIT 7/16/2010: Thanks to Candy, who has identified this plant as Euphorbia pugniformis f. cristata.

There was this short little plant with a bulbous, succulent base. It had fewer than a half-dozen leaves. But what stunning leaves. I thought they had a great gold-dust effect to them. And then John suggested that I wipe the potting soil off the leaves. Okay, no more gold dust effect, but still a great plant. Not all succulents are squat, spiny, leafless little auditions for a horror movie. This plant is proof. But I think a lot of the other plants I've shown are further proof of that.

fairly cool plants

On my recent trip to the San Diego County Fair the horticultural displays seemed to divide into two big categories: exhibits that featured cool designs (usually entered by a landscape design firm or individual) and those that feature some pretty cool plants (mostly in exhibits assembled by specialty nurseries).

I’ve talked enough about the cool designs. Here are some fairly cool plants. Some have been around for centuries, others are fairly new to our gardens. Hopefully the new introductions are fairly tame, otherwise you might be seeing here the new exotic weed pests that’ll be keeping us busy for the next hundred years.

Ptilotus exaltatus 'Platinum Wallaby,' a plant that has been showing up in nurseries this past year.
Oh look: Another noteworthy plant, another ptilotus, Down Under.
Christmas in July? The Ecke poinsettia ranch folks who supply a huge percentage of the world's poinsettias were showing off this new white variety, Polar Bear. My county used to be poinsettia central for the world, but cheaper production costs have driven a lot of that to Central America.
Chartreuse, green, white and near-black: Lobularia Snow Princes, two kinds of ipomoea, with Coleus ColorBlaze Alligator Tears.
Geranium crispum, variegated form. This is one of many foliage plants that have flowers that don't seem to add much to the foliage.
Gosh, yet another noteworthy plant with a 'Noteworthy Plant' sign next to it. (Kinduv reminds me of those turnoffs labeled 'scenic viewpoint' on highways through spectacular landscapes, as if you needed the sign to tell you you were looking at something scenic or--in this case--noteworthy.) This was labeled a 'Pine Needle Fern,' but not with its species name. My quick web trawl didn't turn up much with that name, only a fact that it's considered one of the more primaeval kinds of fern. Very cool, whatever it is.
Rice flower, Ozothamnus diosmifolius, a plant drought-tolerant selection that, like the ptilotus plants, comes from Australia. You'd think they'd have run out of their notable plant signs by now.
Mention the word succulent and people have visions of a fairly desert-ey landscape. Here's a display by Cordova Gardens that instead comes off as a really lush flower arrangement.
Deuterocohnia brevifolia, a fairly amazing succulent. (Edit: this is actually a bromeliad!)
Mammilaria parkinsoniana, a fairly amazing cactus.
A nice mixed planting of cactus and succulents at the Solana Succulents display.
A gorgeous purple prickly pear Opuntia Santa Rita, part of the Solana Succulents exhibit.
Agave victoria-reginae, a normally prim little bundle of green and white botanical joy. Check out bloom stalk in the next photo, however...
OMG, when that thing blooms, stand back! This little two-foot plant has probably produced a twelve-foot inflorescence. How do you design with this plant? Is it a foreground plant? Or something for the background? Not a bad quandary to be in.

more from the county fair

Let me share my favorite garden design from this year’s San Diego County Fair. If I tell you that I grew up on Sunset Magazine and that I frequented the Sunset demonstration gardens at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in the 1970s, you can see why a garden like this pushes my buttons. This space my North County’s Akana Design really embraces the Sunset aesthetic of combining modern design with livable outdoor spaces. (Ignore the ugly black shade cloth background that’s been draped over the plastic white lattice that the fair provided for their displays.)

I’ve been known to grouse about outdoor spaces where the garden has been sacrificed at the expense of adding yet another room to a McMansion, but the plants in this design seemed to be integrated into the results and not so much an afterthought. This space features a compact eating space on gold-colored decomposed granite, with a whiter stone mulch used for most of the growing areas. Two simple wooden walls provide some protection, at the same time they define the space and provide a backdrop for plantings.

A single lounge chair sits off to one side at the end of a DG walkway. A stone in front serves as an ottoman. When the chair is stored indoors for the winter, the ottoman stone could serve as an accent at the end of the little path. The seat is surrounded by fragrant rosemary and cleveland sage, as well as plants that provide visual interest and variety.

This detail shows some of the plants used to provide textural interest: lomandra, phormium, aeonium, tea tree (I think), and–uh oh–Mexican feather grass. Well I had to find something about the plantings to critique. Might I suggest using the native Aristida purpurea instead? Sorry to quibble too much. Overall I thought it was a really successful presentation.

Among the other displays, Pond-Ology featured a little yoga deck in the middle of a tropical paradise. It pushed my Sunset buttons a bit too.

I’m not into making a zoo of captive angels in my back yard, but I thought this menagerie by Blue Pacific Landscape Design was well done. I especially like how the color of the blue pots echoes through the plantings around them. The cascading pink geraniums provide nice contrast. Pots full of blue flowers would have been way too matchy-matchy.

At this garden show, as at many others these days, one of the big themes is green walls. Anandascapes incorporated this wall into a pretty modern display.

Take four green walls and attach them side to side and you have a green obelisk. The Good Earth Plant Co. and Greenscape Building provided this 3D version of the flat green wall.

You could walk around it and look in detail at the various succulents that made the planting possible.

Living in a near-desert I’m still not convinced that green walls make a whole pile of sense. Why not plant an easy-care vine instead? But you’ve got admit they’re spectacular, and “spectacular” works well at a noisy county fair with lots of distractions.

In my next and final post from the fair I’ll show you some of the things that interested me most: Plants!

at the county fair

Are gardeners terrorists? You’d think so looking at the sign posted outside the San Diego County Fair.

This gardener took advantage of the “Furlough Friday” deal for state employees (free admission!) and checked out the offerings of the fair for the first time in half a decade. I guess the rationale of free admission was to get more people in the gate to partake of the rides and stunt food–you know, the bizarre offerings that often involve impaling something on a stick, sticking it in batter, and then deep-frying it. I searched all over for the worst of the worst stunt food but the best (worst?) I could find was a stand offering “fried Twinkie lattes”–really nothing more weird than a vanilla latte–and this trailer selling chocolate covered bacon. Neither dish really seemed to be deep fried, so I guess they’re getting with the health-conscious kick…

My main destination was the outdoor garden displays, where the main point of each display seemed to be either attracting new customers to the landscape firms there or–in the case of the non-profit institutions and garden clubs–education. The fair’s never been about landscape design as a high art, but there’s always interesting stuff there.

If there was theme to the displays this year, “edibles” seemed to be the word, keeping up the health-conscious theme of the not-deep-fried chocolate-covered bacon. This display by the San Diego Botanic Garden in Cooperation with the San Diego Water Authority won the prize for the best edible landscape. The display also won an award for the exhibit that arranged plants in a way that demonstrated “good taste.”

It featured food crops and ornamentals of all sorts as long as they fit into the purple-pink-green-silver palette, and demonstrated that a garden with veggies could be as pulled together as any other garden. In its combination of cool-weather crops (such as purple cabbage) with warm-weather ones (like basil and squash) it was also a reminder that this is a garden show than a real-world garden.

San Diego Botanic Garden display: A fence row planted with ornamentals, kale and squash.

Here are a few more photos of displays that played with the edibles theme:

Artichokes and olive trees in a space designed by Lane McClelland and Laurie Roberts.

Ornamentals and veggies hanging in burlap, also in the McClelland-Roberts garden.

Grow what you love--the entrance to the same McClelland-Roberts garden, featuring corn, chard, chives and other edibles.
Wendy Slijk's display showed off this hanging pot with squash.

Home Depot's entry featured a little grape vineyard.

A scarecrow guarding veggie beds in a display by the San Diego Horticultural Society.

In addition to edibles, drinkables got to play a role, as in this display of Agave tequilana by the Palomar Cactus and Succulent Society. This might not be one of the great landscape agaves, but how can you fault a plant that is the source of tequila?

Erigeron glaucus cv. Bountiful at the Tree of Life Nursery display.

I kept my eye out for uses of native plants, but there were almost none. Part of that is probably because the majority of the charismatic flowering natives do their thing at the end of winter or during spring. The one main exception was a small display by native plant specialist Tree of Life Nursery.

Brittons chalk dudleya and red monkeyflower in the Tree of Life Nursery's display.

Inside, in the adjacent exhibits building, there was a flower show going on, with roses and dahlias and gladiolus and lots of cubbies with flower arrangements. And that’s where I saw a few more natives, where they had a category for cut native flowers. So there was more monkeyflower here, along with one of the bush poppies (Dendromecon) and some matilija poppies.

Really, who doesn’t love these matilijas? The last photo is of one of them. Next post I’ll share some other sightings.