Ruth Bancroft and our curator Brian Kemble collaborated on a newspaper column that provided lots of interesting garden and horticultural information relating to the plants that were growing in her Garden at the time.  The “Ruth’s Tips” column was published every two weeks from 2005 – 2015 and was published in all the Bay Area News Group papers including the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune. In 2016 the column was renamed “On the Dry Side.”

We thought our community of Garden lovers would enjoy reading through these archival columns, for much of the plant information is just as relevant and useful today as it was back then!  We will be adding to the collection of articles several times a week beginning March 2020.

If you have questions about something you read here, feel free to email Brian, who is still our curator, about them.


Ruth's Tips: Aloe mutabilis - Jan 21, 2012

PDF of newspaper clipping: Ruth’s Tips 2012 – Jan. 21

Ruth’s Tips: Aloe mutabilis – Jan 21, 2012
by Brian Kemble
Aloe mutabilis
One of the most commonly grown kinds of Aloe in California is Aloe arborescens, much admired for its conical spires of flowers, normally red, in mid-winter. However, its close relative Aloe mutabilis is very seldom seen in gardens here, differing from its cousin in its smaller size and in its flowers. While Aloe arborescens grows to be a large rounded shrub, eventually attaining a height of 8 to 10 feet, A. mutabilis develops only a short stem and is seldom more than a few feet high. Plants in nature may have offsets or remain single-headed, but in cultivation this species always seems to form clumps.
The sword-like leaves of Aloe mutabilis, green to bluish-green in color and with toothy edges, do not differ significantly from those of its larger relative. In both species, the leaves are softer and more pliable than one might suppose from seeing the plant, and the teeth along the margins are not so sharp as to be a hazard.
Like Aloe arborescens, A. mutabilis flowers in winter, mainly in January and February at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. The flower spikes of each are normally non-branching, though occasionally there may be a single side branch. Two or three spikes may emerge from a single rosette, and a clump with multiple flower stalks puts on quite a show. The cones of flowers of A. arborescens are all of one color, usually red but sometimes yellow or pink. In contrast, the flowers of A. mutabilis lighten as they open, creating a pleasing contrast between the red buds and the light yellow of the open flowers. This 2-tone effect is more pronounced in some plants than others.
In nature, Aloe mutabilis almost always grows on cliffs or steep rocky slopes, but it will grow quite happily on flat ground as long as it has excellent drainage. It is a little more cold-hardy than A. arborescens, enduring temperatures down to the mid-twenties without difficulties. As a result, we are able to grow it without a protective winter cover. As with other Aloe species, this one is attractive to hummingbirds on account of its nectar-filled tubular flowers

Aloe mutabilis - Ruth's Tips

Aloe mutabilis


Aloe mutabilis

Aloe mutabilis full plant