Monday, October 31, 2011

A spiky (spooky) Halloween to you!

These cute little ghosts were hanging out on the spiky tips of my brother Darin's Agaves and Yuccas, I guess with 5 yr old in the house these things happen. I was quite surprised at all the Halloween ghosts and goblins I saw in front yards around Phoenix. I don’t know why, after all they aren’t as odd as the Santa, Snowmen and other assorted Christmas décor that I’ve seen all over town on visits in years past (Santa standing next to a Barrel Cactus and huge Agave is just a little odd...). A common story I heard whenever talking with a gardener or nurseryman on our trip was how horrible last winter was, cold temperatures lasting for days did a number on many plants in Arizona and New Mexico. My brother had suffered as well, loosing several of the plants he first put in the ground 11 years ago when he moved to Arizona. I was prepared for the worst when I finally got to see his garden, but was actually pleasantly surprised. It looked good! Here is an illustration of the frost damage, dead tissue, on the growing tips of this Cactus (I think it’s an Organ Pipe). However the plant has overcome adversity and pushed out all sorts of new growth and even some blooms. Notice the empty spot in the middle of this clump of Agave desmettiana? There was a large plant there, it froze and died last winter but managed to protect the pups all around its base, they've thrived in the summer heat. After the cold winter and several battles with the snout-nosed Agave weevil I feared his Agaves would be gone, but actually quite a few survived, although most of the larger ones were destroyed by the evil weevil. While you are looking at these pictures think about this…he hasn’t watered at all this summer. Zero, zilch. Of course there were monsoon rains in August but other than that this garden has weathered temperatures in the 100’s for days on end and looks this good. I should also mention his lack of watering isn’t to test (or stress) the plants but rather a lack of an irrigation system and no free time to water, and of course most of the plants are established. NO water isn’t ideal, but I thought it was impressive to think that it could look this good. To think this Dasylirion is so happy here and yet I have several in my garden who have received many times the water and not seen the heat that this one has, remarkable plant! I think this one is probably happier than mine. This palm was just a tiny seedling when he moved in, look at it now… And check out its teeth! These are as scary as the edges of any Agave leaf… Did you know that when you garden in the desert and buy a large established Saguaro they mark on the container which side of the plant has been facing south? That way it gets the same sun orientation when you plant it in your garden as it’s grown up with. My brother got the direction of this Saguaro just about right…it has a slight twist to it about half way up as it attempted to adjust to its new home. Such beautiful patterns! Darin is a Gumby fan from way back and when we were kids my parents owned a saw shop…hence his chain-saw carved Gumby. How many desert gardens feature chain saw art? Not many I’m guessing. Closer to what one would expect to see in Phoenix is this Saguaro skeleton. The clay piece on the left is a light fixture…at night the Geckos congregate above it. This is my brothers “plant maintenance facility” he dug these Agave pups ages ago and parked them under the grapefruit tree to plant them up later, here they sit… etiolated but alive. Try that with some wimpy garden plant! Agaves…tough. Their only enemy (besides the evil weevil)…too much water, not a problem here. Ending on a sad note…the grapefruit were not yet ready to be eaten. I have memories of past visits when I could stroll out into the back garden and pick my breakfast; I was hoping to be able to relive the moment. Ah well, maybe next time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall in my garden...

Thankfully our first full day back in Portland wasn’t a complete emersion in the famous Oregon grey skies, the sun came out to highlight some of the changes in the garden since we left town a couple of weeks ago.

The blooms that I was so happy to see on my Clematis tibetana have morphed into these fabulous shiny filaments. Color on the Virginia Creeper. Blooms on the Fatsia japonica. The warm fall color of the Peony leaves always surprises me. I don't think of them as being known for their fall foliage. The yellowing of the leaves on my Ponceris is exciting because it means soon the branches will be bare and thorns will be visible. Mahonia × media‘Charity’ A few red Virginia Creeper leaves stand out against the green Clematis Montana 'pink perfection' leaves. Cardoon blooms, beautiful even in decline. The view when I stepped outside to take the dog for a walk, its fall for sure… Spikes hidden by the neighbors fallen Dogwood leaves. Bright purple on the formerly green Cylindropuntia. Want a fast growing Manzanita? I am shocked at the speed with which the Arctostaphylos x 'Austin Griffiths’ has grown. Agave Americana Wider view… And a couple of Castor Bean close-ups… Our temperatures have dipped to a chilly 36 degrees but the Canna are so far unscathed. Whereas these Sempervivum have their leaves pulled in tight in protest. Does red in the Agave spines count as fall color? Lazy Opuntia. After studying the form of the mother plant to these Agave pups (in New Mexico) it’s quite remarkable how different they are. Shorter wider leaves, is this an adaptation to my climate? And finally a few of the colorful trees I crossed paths with yesterday. We saw plenty of fall color in Albuquerque and Durango but it was mostly of the bright golden variety, it was wonderful to see some fiery reds.