Saturday, September 2, 2017

It's Ruth Bancroft's Birthday!

There's a period of 30 or so years where it may be seen as inappropriate to talk about an older lady's age. However I doubt Ruth Bancroft minds the announcements hoopla surrounding her birthday today, after all she's 109 — that's quite the accomplishment! I had the pleasure of meeting Ruth last August while attending the book launch party of Johanna Silver's The Bold Dry Garden. I tried to snap a photo of her (with long time collaborator Brian Kemble) without being too obnoxious. I will forever treasure the memories of that day...

In honor of Ruth's birthday I thought I would republish what I wrote about my very first visit to the garden, in 2012, along with an index of my other visits — should you want to spend some time lusting after the beautiful plants there.

Before I launch into that 2012 post though I have to share one other very special moment, a comment on that post, from Ruth's daughter, Kathy Bancroft Hidalgo: "We all enjoyed these wonderful photos. I shared them with my mom, Ruth Bancroft, and she was delighted. You were right about the plant being grown from a seed in 1968. Thanks for making my mom's day!"... can you even? It still makes me tear-up a little to know that Ruth looked at my photos and (hopefully) heard how much visiting her garden meant to me. Happy Birthday Ruth! And now back to 2012...

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When I first met JJ, and we were comparing notes on our Agave collections, she was adamant that I must visit the Ruth Bancroft Garden. So isn’t it fitting that when I finally did it was with her? This is the scene visible from the street…

All of these beauties are growing outside the garden! Talk about great advertising…(you’ll have to forgive me for not getting many names on this tour, I let myself just be carried away by the splendor and didn’t get all documentary)

Agave victoriae-reginae
Agave Ferdinand Regis

Aloe broomii, about to bloom…

Aloe brevifolia
Everywhere we went in California the Ceanothus were in bloom, this vibrant plant was growing adjacent to the parking lot. I believe it is C. ‘Dark Star.’

And we enter the garden…
The Ruth Bancroft Garden is approximately 3 ½ acres, planted on a former walnut orchard. In 1972 the beds and paths were laid out by garden designer Lester Hawkins, but the plantings were all arranged and done by Mrs. Bancroft. She had been growing potted succulents in greenhouses surrounding her nearby home and finally, with the phasing out of the orchard, she was able to get her specimens in the ground.

Back then the garden was private, however upon visiting the garden in 1989, and discussing the lack of preservation plans with Mrs. Bancroft, Frank Cabot was inspired to form The Garden Conservancy (a national organization founded by Mr. Cabot to preserve America’s exceptional gardens), this garden was its first project.

Ruth Bancroft is now 104 years old, I heard she made an appearance at the last plant sale.

On the right is Hesperoyucca whipplei var. eremica, on the left Manfreda 'Macho Mocha.’
Close up of the Hesperoyucca whipplei…
Agave parryi var. truncata
Echium of some sort (I believe)...
This variegated Agave parryi stopped me in my tracks. I was almost tempted to do an entire post on it alone so you would be sure to properly appreciate it's beauty.
I've never seen anything like it **swoon**...

Manfreda undulata 'Chocolate Chips' I believe...
Here we have a blooming (or about to bloom) Agave geminiflora

And it's wavy pup...
Peeking over the Opunita is a much larger Hesperoyucca whipplei
Agave americana 'Variegata'
Obviously a Euphorbia, but I have no idea which one...
A river of blue Senecio mandraliscae

Aloe striata
Looks like protection from the rains? I'm surprised they don't rot under there with no air circulation...

Bloomed out dead mother, and pup.

Yucca treculeana

Look at the you suppose that means this Yucca was planted from seed in 1968?
The bloom is HUGE...

This Agave obviously believes in sending its pups out, far away from home.

These plants were all under cover but it was large enough that you could walk through.
Can you see the hummingbird enjoying the Aloe flowers?

Here's a close up...
Ah, my old plant crush...Aloe capitata var. quartziticola. I fell in love with this plant when we visited the Berkeley Botanical Garden in 2009. This is only the second one I've seen.

And that concludes our visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden, I'm so glad I finally got to visit! Thanks JJ for making it possible.

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Want more? Here are all my posts on the RBG...
The Ruth Bancroft Garden (2012); Part One, Part Two
The Ruth Bancroft Garden (2013)
The Ruth Bancroft Garden (2016)

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Weather Diary, Sept 1: Hi 92, Low 59/ Precip 0

All material © 2009-2017 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. What a nice birthday greeting for Ruth Bancroft! The garden is a wonderful accomplishment, which I hope will continue to be enjoyed for hundreds and hundreds of year.

  2. This is a very touching tribute to a time hardy gardener! Now I'll have to look at the 2016 post for comparison. Thanks, Loree.

  3. Great visit, and you even met an inspiring aficionado? Even better.
    That Yucca treculeana flowering so late (last August?) is a surprise, given that garden location seems hot and ours' flower in March. Yes - a big flower.

  4. I just picked up the book from the library and have barely been able to tear myself away. Your photos add another layer to the enjoyment and you answered a question I had about her current age, as she seemed to have turned 107 as the book was about to go to press. Viva Ruth!

  5. Utterly stunning garden and so many swoon-worthy plants. And an important design concept: Plan out the paths and then you've got your beds all figured out and can start in planting!

  6. I missed the 2012 post so I'm glad you reposted. A wonderful garden. I know nothing about desert plants (except for what I read on your blog), but this garden is mesmerizing and mind blowing.
    Is it appropriate to tell a 109 year old she doesn't look a day over 100? I suppose each day is a celebration, and maybe gardening will keep us all so young and vibrant.

  7. Was this the trip with JJ where we met at the SF show? So interesting now to see the protective covers that are discussed in the BDG. Happy birthday, Ruth! (I think she needs her image on a postage stamp, against a background of her garden!)

  8. Happy belated birthday to an exceptional gardener! Thanks for sharing the 2012 post and the special comment from Ruth's daughter. How awesome is that?

  9. That comment from Ruth's daughter is so cool and must have sent you over the moon. Belated happy birthday to a remarkable woman!

  10. What a walk down memory lane. Thanks for sharing!


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