Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Agave Identification

These spiky beauties came to me via relatives in warmer (and drier) climates. They came with out names, and I would love to know what they are. These two, below and at the top, are from my in-laws property in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. They grow like weeds there, and get huge! Bloom spike falling, house-destroyingly huge. The in-laws refer to them as Century Plants, which of course is a common name, I am hoping to find out their actual name. I saw a very similar specimen on Digging and asked Pam about it, she believes it to be “plain old Agave Americana.” For some reason I find it funny to think that there is a “plain old Agave Americana,” I am used reading about the different varieties and fancy names. I guess I assumed there would be more to it. Is that it?

The rest came from Phoenix, Arizona. They are pups of nursery purchased plants. The leaves of this one are very thin, graceful and a beautiful grey/blue. The research that I have done has pointed me to Agave americana var. glauca, could that be right? There are actually 3 plants in the pot. They were tiny just 2 months ago, looks like I'll be separating them soon.
The ones below have dark green, thick leaves. They have grown substantially since I planted them, and it looks like they are going to need to be separated soon too. Any ideas on the name?
I love the sculptural form of this one (same type of agave as the above).
So what do you all think? Any ideas?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More from the Portland Waterfront

We’ve walked south from yesterday’s location, along a boardwalk-style retail/restaurant row, and past a marina. I think of this part of the waterfront as The Strand Park, as the condo/restaurant complex located next to the park is The Strand, designed by my (former) employer Ankrom Moisan Architects, but the park is actually called South Waterfront Park. I remember first walking through this park on a visit to Portland with my mother, years before I moved here. I loved the multiple layers of grass and the patterns that they created. I don’t think many Portlanders actually spend time in this park. When I’ve been I only see people biking through on their way to somewhere else, or homeless people spending a few minutes relaxing in a deserted peaceful place. The park is a wonderful grid of walkways and ponds within a sea of grass. I remember hearing once that Walker Macy, the Landscape Architects that designed the park, used the undulating grass forms to mirror the waves of the river. The repetitive grass plantings run down the bank to the rivers edge and include paths that allow for river access. The bridge in the background (below) is the Marquam Bridge, I-5 as it crosses over the Willamette through downtown Portland.
Andrew would probably rather I wasn’t sharing this picture with the world but it shows the mix of hard-scape and grasses well. Plus I get to show off Lila; Andrew was trying to get her interested in the fish in the pond, but no luck.
They planted a lot of Sea Oats. They look so graceful here, I am starting to rethink the plant that I currently have in a pot, and it may need to go into the ground again.
This is perhaps the healthiest Euphorbia I have ever seen. I wish mine looked like this.
This bloom looks like a Witch Hazel but I thought they bloomed in the winter months, before the tree leafs out. What gives?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Portland Waterfront inspiration

What a beautiful weekend we had in Portland. Warm temperatures and the bluest of blue skies, colored with a little melancholy though as I couldn’t help but think this might be the last one like it for the year. Cooler temps and rain are forecast for the coming week. To enjoy it we went for a long walk along the waterfront and had lunch outside at a favorite Mexican restaurant.
I thought I would share some pictures of the “tropical planting circles” at Tom McCall Waterfront Park located along the Willamette River in Downtown Portland. I discovered these raised planting areas shortly after moving to Portland and immediately wanted to go buy every plant they were using (since we were renting I had to put it off a year or so).
Each year I plan to do a drive-by when the weather starts to turn, in the late fall/early winter, to see how they are protecting the plants. I can’t seem to remember to do it; I did drive by early last spring to see how they fared over the winter and most were gone. Not sure if they had pulled them out to protect them when things got really nasty, or if they had died. It seems a little less dramatic this year, so maybe the latter. Or maybe I’m getting jaded as I acquire more “exotic” plants. Either way I really love that the City has such a superb display on the waterfront to greet visitors. The Nicotiana was huge! I must admit I love the way this plant smells.
This petite Eucomis is new to me; I need to find out what it is. It looks like it's ready for summer to be over and take a winters rest.
Their Eucomis Oakhurst was flopped over and done for the season (it's kind of hard to tell what you are seeig in this photo). Mine are getting close to this. I’ve already cut a few bloom spikes that have fallen over and they’re happy in a vase, in the house. As I was taking pictures of this Melianthus major a couple setting nearby were watching, the fellow warned me that he had just seen another person eaten by this very plant. They asked me the name and luckily I remembered it, usually in those circumstances I draw a complete blank. I love that visitors are being exposed to this kind of planting in a city park, instead of a bed of petunias and marigolds.
I remember seeing this speckled plant at Cistus, but I don’t remember its name. It's a little hard to see but there are speckles all over the trunk and branches. This one is huge! The City must winter some of these over elsewhere. This year I vow to return in the winter and have a look. Like this banana (Ensete) the trunk is chunky, that's not just a years growth is it?
Don’t you love that blue sky?

Friday, September 25, 2009

It seemed like a good idea at the time

It was originally intended as a decorative element but somewhere along the line I decided that by planting these Dasylirion Wheeleri and Hesperaloe in partially buried Terra Cotta pots (pictured below) I had increased the drainage and that was helping to keep these drought tolerant/loving plants alive during our wet winters.
Perhaps, but the problem was about a year ago I started to hate the way they looked. I averted my eyes when I passed, which is difficult since they are right along our sidewalk. Three perfectly wonderful plants were being ignored because they were planted in ugly pots with even uglier Sempervivum. It was finally time to free the innocent plants.
Well it turns out I was right about the drainage. The roots and soil inside the pot were dry while the surrounding ground was quite moist from a recent rain. It’s a trade off. Now I enjoy looking at these plants and hopefully they will still be happy, maybe even spread out their cramped roots and grow, and not mind a little more moisture. I hope.

Why did it take me so long to do something about it? You don’t ever put off taking care of something in the garden that you’ve grown tired of, and even started to hate. Do you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Even though my Astelias are among my favorite plants, I realized I’ve never photographed or talked about them here, and why not? I love the slightly iridescent or shimmery look to their leaves. If you look closely you see fuzz on the leaves is what gives this appearance.
A little like a cross between a yucca and flax they have an elegant form and growth habit along with arching, deeply folded leaves. Astelia are part of the lily family, there are 25 species, 13 endemic to New Zealand. The first one I discovered, an Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear,’ was at Garden Fever, here in Portland. I didn’t purchase it because the tag stated it was hardy to 20-25 F, which can be on the edge here in Zone 8, and I didn’t want to risk it. See…occasionally even I can be cautious!

Of course I quickly regretted it, went back and it was gone. Problem solved when I found a nice specimen a few months later at my first Hardy Plant Society of Oregon spring sale, it was large, healthy and grew to be even larger and healthier. Unfortunately winter 2008 proved that my earlier caution was not misplaced, winter wiped out the Silver Spear.

In the mean time I acquired an Astelia nervosa, at the 2008 Rare Plant Research open house. I had seen this variety a few times, but it was always too expensive for the size. Finally at RPR the price, and size, was right. I love its burgundy/chocolate tones. Since I planted this one in a container I was able to bring it inside when the temperature dropped, so it made it through the winter without loosing a single leaf. Then last spring Garden Fever had small 4” pots of ‘Silver Spear,’ tempting me to take the plunge once again. They were a mere shadow of my former plant, but the price was right so I bought two. One went in the ground…
And the other in a pot (insurance for this winter), both have put on significant new growth over the summer.
And the “dead” one? Removed and put in an out of the way area to convalesce. Looks like it’s going to make it after all! I think I’ll be adding to my Astelia collection…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The trees

Occasionally a tree catches my eye; usually because it’s in flower or has unusual leaves. This group of three stood out because of their beautiful “spring green” color, even in late September. They’re growing at Willamette Park in SW Portland, where I sometimes manage to escape from the work day for a quick walk around the park with my friend Denise.
I have called myself “tree stupid” many times so hopefully you won’t be surprised when I admit to having no idea what they are. Do you know? I just love how they are grouped there, the three of them, so bright and happy in a sea of dark evergreens.
And speaking of trees, deciduous ones now, there is no denying it. I saw color this morning on my way to work, the faintest hint of gold and on the darker leaves, a tinge of purple. Fall is here, and I am adjusting to the idea. Of course the fact that we hit 92 degrees yesterday and set a new record for number of days above 90 in a year (24…and counting?) is helping me ease into it, slowly. Others are running to it, I also saw a pumpkin on someone’s front porch this morning, and it was carved. Slow down people! It’s not even October yet…

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alocasia vs Colocasia

I spotted this leafy mess from a distance, thinking that they most certainly were fake. The leaves were too glossy and perfect, just couldn’t be real. But they are! Aren’t they beautiful?
Tossed in the cart like they were, and parked in the corner of an emptying garden center, they look destined for an unhappy end. Unfortunately there was nobody around to ask about them. After some consideration I couldn’t think of where I would be able to put a big, floppy pair of plants anyway.
The tag identified them as Alocasia, for $19.99. This got me wondering about the difference between an Alocasia and a Colocasia, and I realized I had no idea. After a little internet research I found this tip: “There is one easy way to tell the difference between Alocasia and Colocasia. Alocasia has very thick leaves and the leaf tips always point up. Colocasia has very thin leaves and the leaf tips point down.” Ok the part about the thick and thin leaves definitely holds up, my Colocasia leaves are rather thin compared to these thick waxy leaves…the up/down part…not so sure. I also found this info: “the most important difference between the two is microscopic, found within the female flowers and generally (but not always) Colocasia has a partially peltate leaf blade, while Alocasia leaf blades can be any shape imaginable from entirely peltate to sagittate, to deeply pinnatifid”. Ok now I have to go research what the difference between peltate, sagittate, and pinnatifid is…