Category Archives: Gardening

Tecoma stans ‘Yellow Bells’

I think I have a new favorite tree. This is Tecoma stans ‘Yellow Bells.’

Tecoma stans 'Yellow Bells'

Giant Forest in Sequoia National ParkTechnically, since it doesn’t get taller than 25 or 30 feet, Tecoma stans is a bush. To me, though, 25 feet definitely is a tree, albeit a small tree. Certainly it will never be mistaken for a redwood or sequoia.

I don’t want tall trees on my property since we get 60-70 mph Santa Ana winds out here, and I don’t have the land to plant something a mile away so it doesn’t get toppled onto the house.

Previously, the jacaranda and mimosa were at the top of my list. I have both on my property, and I’m keeping them pruned and shaped into small trees or bushes.

I got Yellow Bells as a little one-gallon plant in June 2018. As you can see from the picture, it likes it out here in the dry desert heat. It seems to be evergreen and ever-blooming.

I chopped it back to three feet in May 2019 and May 2020. The picture is from August 15, 2020. In other words, it grows extraordinarily fast and blooms year-round with no watering beyond what comes down from the sky, and no fertilizer. It seems to be a great dry-garden complement to my cacti & succulents.

The branches/wood seem to be very brittle, so I will keep chopping it back each year to keep it small and bush-like, especially since we do have those Santa Ana winds of 60-70 mph out here in the East San Diego County boondocks.

Tecoma stans 'Yellow Bells'

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

Raindrops on…. roses?

Whenever it rains overnight, I like to take my Canon 760D and Tamron 90mm macro lens out into the gardens to see what additional beauty the raindrops have causes.

Here are twelve pictures from the morning of Sunday, June 7.

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Hoping I can’t go into one of my gardens for about a month

Picture of the Moment

I got up at 5:30 this morning to go pull weeds and clear dead brush along the fence. Nothing unusual about that.

I just went out to take pictures of the cactus flowers that are blooming. I leaned in close with my 90mm macro lens and suddenly something hit me in the head and went flying away.

The last time I was hit in the head by something flying was 1968 under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin. That time was a flying bat (if you’ve never seen the bats take to the skies at dusk at the Congress Avenue bridge, go!).

This time, it was a momma mourning dove. Interestingly, she and her nest were not there at 6:00 this morning. In a mere six hours she (and daddy?) built a nest out of brush laying in a pile nearby, and she laid two eggs in it.

mourning dove eggs

I’m so happy because the last time I had baby birds was annually from 1968-1973 in my wise old grandmother’s yard. I had built a bird house using a Boy Scout handbook and attached it high in our ash tree. A family of screech owls moved in. They are known to use the same nesting site annually, and they did.

Research indicates that it takes 14 days for mourning dove eggs to hatch and another 15 days for the little ones to take off on their own.

Fortunately, I have most of the weeds pulled in this area, and the rest can wait for a month. The presence of momma and, hopefully, two little ones means that any future pictures from my retaining wall gardens will have to be taken through the window in my home office using my 600mm lens. Can’t wait to see how those turn out.

It takes me 4 minutes to walk from the sunny retaining wall gardens back to the home office. By the time I got back inside and looked out the window, momma bird was back on the nest.

momma mourning dove on nest

Where do I cancel?

Out & About

On Saturday, March 14, I drove to Visalia, California, a distance of 327 miles. It was a 10-hour round-trip. My purpose was to speak to the Visalia Succulent Club on Nature’s Geometry in Succulents.

Cover of "Nature's Geometry: Succulents" by Russel Ray

I got to go over The Grapevine, a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 5 over the Tehachapi Mountains from California’s San Joaquin Valley to Grapevine.

The Grapevine

It’s a monster of a road because there’s a lot of semi traffic doing 5-10 mph in the slow lane, and semi traffic doing 10-30 mph in the second lane. Traffic in the other lanes is cruising by at 55-65 mph, with some doing up to 90 mph in the fast lane. The weather can be atrocious because of the height of the mountains, raining at the top (4,000 feet) but clear on both sides, and even snow at some times of the year. Couple the weather with the wide range of speeds, and there always are various accidents.

The meeting was at 6:00 p.m., and since I got there at 10:15 a.m., I had a lot of time to explore. Visalia and its sister city of Exeter were quite beautiful with all the trees that were blooming.

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus sp.)

Flowering Maple (Albutilon sp.)

Redbud trees

Flowering trees

Exeter, with a population of 10,000, had a very cool little downtown area. There were murals on the exterior of 32 buildings. I didn’t find them all, but the following one, #15 and titled “Tracks of Time,” was my favorite.

Tracks of Time

In Exeter, I found a bookstore with lots of local history books, so I bought one, a hard-cover edition of a book that itself is difficult to find.

Visalia Electric Railroad

The bookstore also had a cat. I’m one of those who have to take time out of my busy schedule to pet a cat, so this little one got 15 minutes of love and attention from me. Look at the expression on his face as I told him that I had to go but would make him a Facebook star.

Exeter bookstore kitty

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, when I got home at 4:00 Sunday morning, I decided to self-isolate, not because I think I might have caught something in the Central California Valley but rather because at my age (65 years and 8 days) and with my high blood pressure; skin cancer and seborrheic keratoses; BPH; and constant coughing, sneezing, and trouble breathing due to a deviated septum from a broken nose sometime in my early childhood (according to the otolaryngologist), I’m in the high-risk category. My constant coughing and sneezing also might cause concern to anyone within hearing distance. I have pills to help control the coughing and sneezing, but I never know how long before they take effect and when they might expire.

I’m keeping a journal of my days at home in self-isolation., trying to keep things in perspective.

Day 1—I have decided to self-isolate. Since I am retired, between watching television (although no sports), gardening (lots of weeds to pull and flora to plant), and taking care of Little Queen Olivia (who doesn’t seem to be real excited about me being home all day), self-isolation shouldn’t be too hard.

Day 2—After a day of drinking margaritas and watching the Hannibal series on Prime TV, I can definitely state that drinking margaritas all day does not make you poop. Thusly, I am out of margaritas, but I have 1,618 rolls of toilet paper.

Day 3—Little Queen Olivia is completely oblivious to the fact that I am home and willing to give belly rubs.
Little Queen Olivia

Day 4—Self-isolation isn’t so bad, but I do find it interesting that there are 8,471 grains of rice in one box and 8,552 grains in the other box.

Day 5—It’s been raining all this week, with 3½ inches these past two days, and it’s raining hard right now. Pulling weeds and planting flora is going very slowly. Ah well, that means I definitely still have things to do during the next nine days of my self isolation.

My self-isolation will end on March 28, and three days later my 90-day free trial of the year 2020 ends. Where do I cancel?

Hope everyone is doing well in these weird times we’re living in.

If you get lost in Beverly Hills

If you ever get lost in Beverly Hills, get lost at Camden Dr & N Santa Monica Blvd to visit the awesome historic cactus garden.

Location of the Beverly Hills Historic Cactus Garden

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“Nature’s Geometry: Succulents” now for sale!

"Nature's Geometry: Succulents" front cover

My book, “Nature’s Geometry: Succulents,” officially is for sale now at my new Etsy shop.

Next day shipping with free shipping to anywhere in the world.

For now.

That might change as I get more experienced in shipping,
so order now while shipping is free!

https://www.etsy.com/listing/750414133/natures-geometry-succulents?ref=listing_published_alert

“Nature’s Geometry: Succulents” uses over 600 photographs to examine how the Fibonacci sequence of numbers is exhibited in Nature, particularly succulents. About 99% of the photographs are mine, and about 95% of the plants are mine, as well.

Soft cover only. 174 pages.

Covers the shape of plants, the number of plant ribs, the number of spines in areoles, golden angles, phyllotaxis (the divergent angle), golden triangles, Fibonacci triangles, golden squares, golden rectangles, circles, fractals, and, most fascinating to him, golden spirals.

Who is Russel Ray? A quick Russel Ray timeline:

  • 1962—Received his first plant, a heartleaf ivy, from his first grade teacher.
  • 1966—Got started in photography as a volunteer elementary school events photographer.
  • 1968—Created a 100-square-foot cactus rock garden in his grandmother’s yard.
  • 1973—Became fascinated with the Fibonacci sequence of numbers and how they are expressed in nature.
  • 2019—Finally published this book. (It has a real ISBN!)

I have one review so far, posted on Instagram by dr.cactus_man, the President of the Long Beach Cactus Club:

"Nature's Geometry: Succulents" review

My 2020 calendars “Nature’s Geometry: Spirals,” will be in my Etsy shop by tomorrow. Price will be $20 with free shipping to anywhere in the world.

2020 "Nature's Geometry: Spirals" calendar cover

I will have a sneak peak of the full spirals calendar tomorrow.

I also will have other 2020 calendars available by December 1: Nature’s Geometry: Succulents, for sure, and others featuring roses, orchids, cats, animals, and trains. I’m sure I’ll find more subjects as I’m browsing my huge collection of photographs.

I guess I’ll find out whether it really likes me

I live in my own little world

Long-time friends and followers know of my infatuation with plants and mathematics, especially the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

One of the numbers is 13.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89….

The Fibonacci sequence is expressed throughout nature in many ways: golden angle, divergent angle, golden spiral, golden triangle, Fibonacci triangle, and more….

So when I saw this Echinopsis atacamensis ssp. pasacana with 13 ribs….

Trichocereus atacamensis ssp. pasacana

….offered for sale by Gnosis Nursery of Ramona CA, well, I thought it would look good in my gardens with all my other Fibonacci plants.

I planted it yesterday.

I like it, and I think it likes me.

This plant is native to Argentina and Bolivia, and grows at elevations of 6,500 feet to 13,100 feet above sea level on steep slopes. It does not like high humidity, extreme heat, or lasting frost. The mean maximum temperature in its native habitat is about 85°F, and it only gets about 6 inches of rain each year.

I’m at 682 feet high, and we do get extreme heat out here, many consecutive days of 100+°F with a maximum (so far, in 2½ years) of 118°F.  Since January 1, 2019, I have had 46.75 inches of rain.

Consequently, I planted it on the side of the house that gets bright light and shade rather than in full sun. 

I guess I’ll find out whether it really likes me.

When things don’t work out as planned

I have been doing landscaping, both paid and unpaid, for fifty years, all of it in flat, dry, desert conditions between sea level and 338′ above sea level.

In July 2017, I moved from 17′ above sea level to 682′ above sea level. I neglected to check the USDA zone (I’m in 9B-10A), and for the first time in my life, I did not drive the neighborhoods at the elevation to see what the neighbors are growing.

Consequently, I’m discovering that plants that I grew very well at lower elevations just are not happy out here at high elevation in the East San Diego County boondocks. It’s understandable since we have had lows of 28°F and highs of 118°F. The highs are more prevalent than the lows; just two consecutive days of freezing temperatures but, so far, 63 days of temperatures above 100°F and 21 days above 110°F.

The poor plants are sunburned or just barely existing, so I’m in the process of pulling out the plants that are not doing well, mostly aeoniums, and replacing them with ferocactus, red-spined barrel cactus. I have several that are doing spectacular out here, and I like the effect of the red spines.

Ferocactus herrerae
Ferocactus herrerae

Ferocactus gracilis
Ferocactus gracilis

Ferocactus cylindraceus
Ferocactus cylindraceus

I’m buying more to fill in where the aeoniums were. I like the effect, as seen below, which I believe are Ferocactus cylindraceus:

Ferocactus and Euphorbia

On Monday I’m getting about twenty Ferocactus wislizenii. Here’s the picture provided by the nursery:

Ferocactus wislizenii

Double R Creations & Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos

Pereskia, the grandmother of all cacti

Did you know?

Yellow rose

When I was but a youth of 15, my wise old grandmother employed child labor (me!) to create a rose garden for her. I do admit that she had some beautiful roses, but that experience, as well as all those pokey pokeys hiding in that lush, green foliage forever soured me on roses. They are beautiful, as long as they are on someone else’s property.

Fast forward fifty years and I discovered the rose of the cactus world. Looks like this:

Pereskia grandiflora v. violacea

That’s Pereskia grandifolia var. violacea. It’s a very leafy plant, and the opened flowers look like miniature roses. Just like rose bushes, it has some serious pokey pokeys hiding in that lush foliage, albeit far worse than any rose bush I ever have come across. Here is a tall bush at Waterwise Botanicals in Fallbrook, California:

Pereskia grandifolia v. violacea

Mine is on its way to looking like that.

I discovered this plant in May 2018 and was so enamored of it that I did an education display at the Summer Show & Sale for the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society, garnering second place:

Pereskia education