The Tree Aloes of Pacific Grove

Dsc_0027_aloe_at_3x5_1_3Here is a winter image of the aloe in Pacific Grove. I believe that it is Aloe arborescens, which is the species of most of the old aloes in mid-California and the one featured in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern Califoria. (You can click on the image to make it bigger.)

(As you can see, I am finally feeling confident enough to put images on my blog, though I took this one when we were in Pacific Grove last November. I plan to have more current images on this blog in the future.)

Aloe arborescens is from South Africa, as are many aloes. Paging through a book about South African aloes in the library, I saw the inspiration for some of the fantastic plants that appear in the illustrations of Victorian children's books. There are tall aloes that are a single huge whorl of leaves topped with a candelabra of flower stems, and there is one that looks like a broad-crowned tree, with one thick trunk and a broad head of branches topped with leafy whorls, each with flower stems. "Arborescens" means treelike, but actually there are aloes more treelike than Aloe arborescens, which makes a massive mound of leaf whorls, but scientific names are not chosen with absolute accuracy in mind.

In South Africa, various aloes, from tiny "grass aloes" to the biggest tree forms, are used in ornamental landscape. Before Europeans arrived, Aloe arborescens was used to make kraals, or corrals, to keep wild animals away from domestic ones. They were planted on mounds, which made the barrier more formidable. The leaves of this aloe have been used medicinally, like those of the North African Aloe vera, to treat skin ailments.

There is a several-mile-long walk along the bottom of Monterey Bay at the north end of Pacific Grove that is studded with these aloes. In May, the aloes are out of bloom, and the ground is covered with pink iceplant. Just as well they don't bloom at the same time as the colors would be rather alarming in combination. The town used to be a resort for Methodists, late in the 19th Century and early in the 20th, I think. Much of the parkland design dates from that period.

Wildly Successful in Pacific Grove

We're taking a few days off in Pacific Grove, CA. It is a small city west of Monterey. When we have been here in the winter I have been charmed by the many tree aloes in bloom in a park that runs along the Monterey Bay. They are huge plants, with spikes of orange flowers on top. At this time of year, they are out of bloom, but I am seeing many other Wildly Successful plants here. There are Watsonias in many gardens, in pink, white, and coral. There are 'Brilliant' scented geraniums and many kinds of old regal geraniums. There are 'Rose of Castille Improved' fuchsias, an English variety from the 1800s that survived the Fuchsia gall mite. And Pride of Madiera, foxglove, Mexican sage, calla, agapanthus...

In fact, there are so many of the plants featured in my book, that I have, in previous visits, sought a bookstore or other store that might want to carry my book here, but, though there are several used bookstores, I haven't found a new bookstore, nursery or other outlet in town that would be appropriate. I'd love to come down and give a talk about the plants in the book. Does anyone have a connection that might lead to that?

I am seeing many lovely gardens here. And there are old coast live oaks in the neighborhoods, hanging with moss (lichens). I even saw an edible fig tree draped in moss today, a startling sight!

Being near the sea, we are near to wild nature. We walked along the sea yesterday, where there is much restored dune native plant life that is very beautiful. We watched gulls and cormorants along the coast, and rocks that came to life when the seals that were on them flicked a tail. (The seals are about the same color as the rocks, so you have to look carefully to see them.) While we were sitting outside this afternoon we listened to owls calling and responding in the tall trees. There are deer all over the west end of town, too, but they don't seem to bother the more inland gardens.