Drought Tolerant Plants: Ruth Bancroft Garden

Wednesday February 26, 2014 at 5:05 PM | 4 Comments

Aloe Mudenisis, ruth bancroft garden

Aloe Mudenisis blooms in a sheltered gazebo at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California

Living in today’s active world, it can be hard to find refuge from the bustle of everyday life. Secluded from the clamor of Walnut Creek’s traffic, the Ruth Bancroft Garden is a sanctuary for both horticulturists and water conservationists. The tranquility of this Northern California garden counters the vivacity of its many cacti and succulents, providing an example of the art of garden design combined with the practice of water conservation.

While I have previously visited this garden with my grandmother, I was never aware of its history. The Ruth Bancroft Garden was founded in 1972 and opened to the public in the early 1990’s by Ruth Bancroft, a woman with a fascination of water-conserving plants. Ruth had wanted to be an architect in her younger days, but due to the great depression, coupled with the fact that none of the men were getting jobs in architecture, she turned to garden landscaping as an alternative form of art.

succulent, ruth bancroft garden

Drought tolerant plants, such as this purple dyckia, show their beauty at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California

Ruth Bancroft Garden – dry gardening model

The garden is a model for dry gardening worldwide, as Ruth was ahead of her time in the idea of using drought tolerant plants. The issue of water conservation is especially relevant to the current drought in California.

“The historic reservoir levels are appallingly low and the snowpack is the lowest on record. That doesn’t bode well for our water supply in the coming year. We might have to get used to this thing as being the new normal,” said garden director Brian Kemble.

Drought tolerant plants

The Ruth Bancroft Garden contains over 2,000 xerophytes, and integrates plants from dry regions around the world. Some more prominent collections are the yuccas, agaves, aloes, and gasterias. Agaves are abundant, and the Ruth Bancroft garden has over twice as many in bloom each year than other botanical gardens. While most botanical gardens plant collections in groups, this garden doesn’t, which I think adds visual interest. While taking either a self-guided tour or a guided tour, you never know what interesting plant you will see next.

While most drought-tolerant plants are easy to care for, some require a little more attention. The garden has recently begun to offer Australian plants, a favorite of Ruth’s, which are beautifully blooming. However, because they are acidic plants and the garden runs on alkaline water, garden workers have to add sulfur to the water for the plants to succeed.

adrian, ruth bancroft garden

Ruth Bancroft Garden Docent Adrian D’Souza educates visitors on species of cacti and succulents and dry gardening techniques while guiding a tour in Walnut Creek, California

Year round dry garden

The garden holds events year round, such as the Sculpture in the Garden, Plant Sales, and Bluegrass Sunset Social, to expose people to the garden, and promote interest in dry gardening. The Bluegrass Sunset Social, held every August 15, features the Alhambra Valley Band. Make sure to check out current events on the website if you are planning to visit the garden.

During my visit to the garden, plans were under development for a visitor center. Money for the visitor center will be raised by events. “We are going to trial this year doing small outdoor weddings, and that would be something the public would be interested in because we get inquiries all the time,” said executive director Gretchen Bartzen. Visit the website for future updates.

I was amazed by the both the quantity and quality of plants in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, and I think the beauty of these specimen goes to show that drought tolerant plants can be great for landscaping as well. “I think people are going to have to start turning their attention toward landscaping ideas that are less water-guzzling,” said Kemble.

Ruth Bancroft Garden, dry garden

The Ruth Bancroft Garden, in Walnut Creek, California is a must-see for Bay Area visitors, gardeners & environmentalists.

Kid-friendly Ruth Bancroft Garden

Some parents may be hesitant to bring their kids to the garden; for fear that they will be bored. While they may not be interested in the information presented in the tours, kids will find amusement in the sculptures and the unusual plants. I would advise parents to take kids on a self-guided tour, so they can go at their own pace. This garden is a must-see for Bay Area visitors, or anybody with a passion for gardening or environmental preservation.

If You Go:
Ruth Bancroft Garden (925) 944-9352
1552 Bancroft Road
Walnut Creek, California 94598


Article written by and photos courtesy of Isabel Owens, a Campolindo High School journalism student.


Bariatric Nutrition

Friday February 21, 2014 at 6:06 AM | 2 Comments

food addiction

Article written by Nancy D. Brown

This is the second in a series that will help you deal with bariatric weight-loss surgery and travel.

Part 1: Bariatric surgery: life changing decision

Part 2: Bariatric lifestyle & nutrition

Part 3: Bariatric support groups & travel


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I am a travel writer. You should not consider my bariatric journey as professional medical advice. Consult with your doctor to see if this life changing decision is right for you.

Lifestyle & nutrition post Bariatric surgery

To be honest, meeting with the dietitian at John Muir Medical Center was not fun. In fact, reality and the lifestyle I would be leaving behind came crashing down all around me. Yet I knew the dietitian was there to lend support in my weight-loss journey and help guide me and provide accurate nutrition information in a realistic light. Now I view my dietitian as a resource for sharing healthy eating tips.

As a luxury food, wine and travel writer, I typically go on two trips per month in search of story ideas and writing assignments. These “dream vacations” as some of my friends refer to them, often involve luxury spa treatments, gourmet meals and active outdoor adventures. My experiences are often once-in-a-lifetime holidays for the typical traveler. Most people eat like they are on vacation once a year. Unfortunately, I eat like I’m on vacation once a week and it shows in my waistline and my body mass index.

MyPlate, usda


Bariatric nutrition

The USDA Food Guidance System was established to improve the nutrition and well-being of Americans. The My Plate graphic illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet. Healthy eating and proper nutrition is especially important with bariatric weight-loss patients.

“We strongly emphasize that this surgery is only a tool for weight loss. The patient is responsible for making many of these dietary changes on a daily basis, not only to achieve their desired weight loss goals, but to also maintain their overall health for years to come,” said Sarah Bailey, RD, Clinical Dietitian, John Muir Health.

  • Overall, patients are encouraged to consume 3 protein-focused meals per day, with minimal sugar and carbohydrate intake as able.
  • Eat slowly: Chew foods 15-20 times before swallowing, don’t rush through meals. Meals should last ~30 minutes.
  • Protein recommendations: Consume 3 protein-focused meals per day. Consult your dietitian to find out your daily protein needs. Protein supplements will be beneficial in reaching your protein goals.
  • Protein supplement criteria:

<25g total carbohydrates/serving

<15g sugar/serving

>10g protein/serving

<300 calories/serving

  • Fluids recommendations: Drink at least 64oz of sugar-free, non-carbonated fluids per day. Consume ~1oz every 10-15 minutes throughout the day. SIP, do not gulp and do not use a straw. AVOID carbonated, sweetened, alcoholic, and caffeinated beverages.
  • No beverages with meals: Avoid fluids 30-60 minutes before and after meals to avoid stretching out your pouch.
  • Exercise: Overall goal is to work up to exercising at least 30-45 minutes 4-5x/week for health and weight management benefits.
  • Vitamins & Mineral recommendations: Vitamin and mineral supplementation is recommended long-term, chewable or liquid forms may be better tolerated. Below is a list of what my nutritionist recommends – consult your dietitian for your personal guidelines;

-Complete multivitamin with iron

-Calcium citrate 1500mg/day (best to do 500mg doses 3x/day)

-Vitamin D 2000 IU/day

-B12 1000mcg 1x/week

Relationship with food

“The question is not whether we will die, but how we live,” author Joan Borysenko.

Unlike addictions to drugs or alcohol, we need food to live. So it follows that the bariatric weight loss patient needs to learn to live with food. If we understand our food addiction, hopefully we will be more mindful of our food recovery, seek out healthy foods and try to avoid emotional eating.

Bariatric weight loss support

So what caused my shift in favor of bariatric surgery? After two consultations with bariatric surgeons, three bariatric nutrition appointments and attending three bariatric weight loss support group meetings over a three month time period, I began to fully understand the bariatric weight loss process. I listened, I learned and I asked questions. While your experience may be different than mine, I found that every post surgery patient I spoke with was thankful for their decision to have had bariatric weight loss surgery.

Related post

Bariatric surgery: life changing decision

Enchanted Highway, North Dakota: You’ll be glad you made the drive

Wednesday February 19, 2014 at 9:09 AM | 5 Comments

The largest tin family in the world is a folksy beacon to Regent, North Dakota

The largest tin family in the world is a folksy beacon to Regent, North Dakota

The first indication that there’s something amazing off of I-94 west of Bismarck, North Dakota is the scrap metal sculpture “Geese in Flight.” You can’t miss it. Depicting Canadian geese flying over the seemingly endless expanse of prairie, this intricate sculpture stands at 110 feet tall and 154 feet wide. Its size landed it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture.

This sculpture is only the beginning of the scrap metal wonders along the 32 mile stretch of quiet two lane road in the middle of farmland between I-94 and Regent, North Dakota. Gary Greff, “Geese in Flight’s” creator, started his scrap metal creations back in 1997 when he made the world’s largest tin family. Dad, mom and son, standing at 45 ft., 44 ft., and 23 ft. tall, serve as Regent’s welcoming committee of sorts. Their folksy how-de-do has worked like a charm.

Part of Fisherman's dream

Part of Fisherman’s dream

See, Greff, noticing that Regent was on its way to ghost town status if something didn’t happen to change the tide of small town flight, came up with the idea to build enormous sculptures as a tourist attraction and call the endeavor “Enchanted Highway.”

Greff’s idea worked. I know that first hand. There I am one day in my office in Ohio listening to NPR when Greff is being interviewed. The story about the former teacher and principal who built the largest scrap metal sculptures in the world to save his town of 200 people in North Dakota caught my attention. How could it not?I pulled out our atlas, pointed to Regent, North Dakota and said to my husband, “We have to go here. We have to see the largest tin family in the world.” Besides, what’s a few more miles when one is driving from Ohio to Philipsburg, Montana? It seemed to me that the fact the hat of the tin dad is the size of a Volkswagon Beetle was reason enough to make the drive.

The sculptures along the Enchanted Highway that now include: “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again,” “Pheasants on the Prairie,” “Grasshoppers in the Field,” “Deer Crossing,” and “Fisherman’s Dream” did not disappoint. Serving as a lesson in prairie and North Dakota history, they also amaze with their variety and whimsy. We were so enthralled with them that we’ve made the drive to Regent two more times.

Another kind of pheasant in North Dakota

Another kind of pheasant in North Dakota

This coming summer may be round four. Last summer, we were close but headed to Teddy Roosevelt National Park, a place we had yet to see on all our trips west. I sure did miss seeing the tin family, though. Happily, the “Geese in Flight” soared as magnificently as ever as we drove past them on I-94.

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association