Season Confusion

Just before I typed this, I have finished frost-proofing most of my semi-tender plants in containers. The forecast says that we will have some cold Arctic air arriving tonight and it will get down to around 34F with the next night even colder. Normally what we have here in the Bay Area is dry freeze with clear nights and no wind. For that I usually just put up umbrellas and awnings, and use anti-transpirant such as Cloud Cover if it is below 28F. But this time it looks like it is going to be a rare wet freeze. Hopefully it will not go down below 32F, or my garage will be completely filled with plant refugees.

This year is an El Nino year, and usually that means wetter but milder weather through the winter. I still remember the last major El Nino in 1998 when it seemed to have rained non-stop from January to May with a few flooding events thrown in. So far this fall is a particularly mild one as proven by these wild mustards at an empty former orchard field near where I live:

Mustard Field
Fields of gold

Individual Flower

Normally this kind of show is reserved for March, but this year is definitely not normal. One English poet once said: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”. It seems like spring has cut the line this time and I hope that she won’t get punished too severely.

Trip to Beijing Part 3: The Summer Villa at Chengde

As the capital of China for the last six hundred years, Beijing is blessed with many huge and elaborate royal gardens. Surprisingly, it can not lay claim to the largest surviving royal garden. The 1380-acre-plus Imperial Summer Villa is in a small city called Chengde about 160 miles to the northeast of Beijing. Since I have never been there even though I lived in Beijing for over ten years, I made sure to include this garden on my trip back to China in October. Continue reading

Trip to Beijing Part 2: 7th China Flower Expo

A good way to get over jetlag is to follow the local time schedule with lots of physical activities, and I did just that by going to the 7th China Flower Expo the next day after I landed in Beijing. This once-every-four-year event is the Olympic Games of the Chinese horticultural industry. A brand new exhibition center was built for the show with many green features such as these membrane roofs doubling as rainwater collection system.

Flower Expo Center

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Trip to Beijing Part 1: General Impression

I went back to Beijing, China for almost three weeks in October to both visit my parents and to see one particular Imperial garden that I have never been to before: The Summer Villa at the city of ChengDe. The weather was very nice with many clear days, although air polution is still an issue and it would probably be a problem for quite some time since there are already 3 million cars in Beijing. The local government has a new policy of limiting cars on the road by their license plate numbers, but I heard many callers on a radio program complaining that their civil rights were violated by these executive orders. I think it is an encouraging sign that with prosperity people are demanding a society of law and people do have much more freedom in openly criticizing the government.

Stores on a street Here is a street scene near my in-laws’ home in Beijing. Because of the high population density, there are lots of stores that cater to people’s daily needs. I think it is not only good for the environment but also for personal health since people walk instead of drive for their haircuts. Even excluding all the gardens I went to, I probably walked more in those three weeks than I normally do in three months here in the American suburbs. Continue reading

Ficus dammaropsis in Santa Cruz: Yet another miracle plant for the Bay Area

Ficus dammaropsis is a knock-your-socks-off fig tree from the highlands of Papua New Guinea with gigantic leaves. Previously I have only seen it in botanical gardens in Southern California. A plant master told me that one specimen is alive and kicking right in front of the Santa Cruz Art Center at 1001 Center Street. So I went over and checked it out after a Rare Fruit Growers’ Picnic nearby.

The first thing I noticed is the can-not-get-any-better microclimate: this tree is right against an inward corner of the building wall facing south. A big Liquidamber tree is conveniently located to protect its large leaves from harsh mid-day summer sun. It also does not hurt to be less than two miles away from the ocean. All things considered this tree probably has never seen below freezing temperature at this location.

It is kind of funny how this tree seems to be trying to hide from people who pass by:

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A couple of weeks ago, I saw this exotic white apricot for sale in my local Trader Joes supermarket. I have read about this fruit in a NY Times article years ago and have kept it in mind since then. Probably because it is so new to the general public, there was even a free sampling that I took advantage of without hesitation. I was quite satisfied with the milder-than-Blenheim-but-no-sour-after-taste flavor, so I offered one piece to my 8-year-old son. Being a strong-minded boy, he refused emphatically, then tried one small piece upon my insistence. As soon as he had that piece, he was all over me asking for more and more. So I bought four packs (1lb. for $3.59) and had to go back for more the next day since the first batch got consumed that evening. Now I think the word was out (and I helped with a posting on Cloud Forest Cafe), so there were no more free samples and half of the supply was already gone. I grabbed six more packs and just hope that this wonderful fruit will become regularly available in the future.



My son had a play-date last Sunday afternoon (5/24) and my wife said that we have not visited a garden together for quite some time. I guess I must have been really good in my previous life to be this blessed, so we decided to go visit Filoli.

For those of you who do not know, Filoli is a 650-acre country estate built in 1917 in the city of Woodside. The main house is 36,000 square feet and the garden covers 16 acres. It is open to the public with an extremely capable crew of gardeners. This is probably the finest example of formal style garden in the Bay Area.

The name Filoli is a shorthand of the first owner’s credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” I mentioned this as an example during my talk about Classical Chinese Gardens in Suzhou where most gardens have meaningful and unique names. It is a poetic way of declaring the intention and it just sounds more interesting than Huntington Garden, for example.

Here is a signature view of the pond and Yew columns in the distance:

Filoli Pond

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