Sunday, February 15, 2015

Partial front yard makeover: from banana and lemon to cactus and agaves

Rule 1 of documenting a makeover project: take decent photos of the “before.” That’s exactly what I didn’t do on our most recent project. Instead of taking pictures when the light was good, I waited until the last minute when it was too contrasty. But at least the “after” photos look pretty good.

But let’s start at the beginning. Inside the front yard, in front of the towering Baby Blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’), I’d planted a variegated pink ‘Eureka’ lemon and a golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). They did well while I was giving them plenty of water. But with California in the throes of a multi-year drought, I’d cut back dramatically on the frequency and amount of watering. As a result, both the lemon and the banana looked stressed and unhappy. A few months ago I decided it was time for a change. And that meant saying goodbye to them.

Here’s the “before” on Saturday morning:

150214_fy_before_001

150214_fy_before_003

The lemon couldn’t be saved. Its fruit was nothing to write home about—certainly nothing like a Meyer lemon—so I’m not too broken up about it. However, I was able to divvy up the banana into four chunks: a larger one (the leaves you see in the photo above) and three smaller ones. They’re available for rehoming if anybody wants one (Alan?).

After removing the lemon and the banana, I created mounds (hard to see in the photos below) from topsoil and 5/16” lava rock. This will provide the excellent drainage demanded by the Mexican fence post cactus (and, to a slightly lesser degree, by the agaves).

My wife and I then set out the plants were were going to use to find a pleasing composition.

150214_fy_during_004

In addition to the Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) I’d brought back from Phoenix, Arizona, I knew I also wanted to use this cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta ‘Reggae Time’) I bought at Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento.

Side note to Sac’to folks: If you’re interested, Green Acres has several interesting agave cultivars right now at a great price: $25 for 5 gallon cans. In addition to my ‘Reggae Time’ there was ‘Mr Ripple’ (one of my favorite agaves, but too large for my garden) as well as good ole Agave americana. 1-gallon plants ($8.50) included Agave asperrima ssp. zarcensis, which I recently photographed at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Agave colorata, and Agave geminiflora.

150214_fy_during_006

My wife and slept on the preliminary plant arrangement we’d come up with, and this morning it was time to commit. Here’s where everything ended up:

150215_fy_after_003  150215_fy_after_006

From right to left, this is what we have: a small Agave ‘Sun Glow’ (variegated sport of ‘Blue Glow’); Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus); behind it Encephalartos lehmannii (to my delight I discovered that its caudex had grown to 4” in diameter during the three or four years I’d had it in a pot); in front of it three small Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoria-reginae); to the right the cow’s horn agave (Agave bovicornuta ‘Reggae Time’) I mentioned above; and all the way on the right Agave parrasana ‘Meat Claw’ (I love that name).

150215_fy_after_009

The large potted aloe on the right is Aloe reitzii, a summer bloomer—hopefully large enough to finally flower this year!

150215_fy_after_005

And the potted agave all the way on the right is Agave chrysoglossa. I almost put it in the ground instead of the Agave bovicornuta, but it’s happy it its container so that’s where it will stay for the time being.

150215_fy_after_007

So, what do you think of this xeric makeover? I’m very happy with how it’s turned out. Next weekend I’ll add rock mulch I have left over from last year’s desert bed project, and we’ll be completely done. At least until it’s time to make over the makeover!

16 comments:

  1. Well done Gerhard. I have been madly digging up since late summer and am faced with decisions ..the weeds have been very opportunistic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some decisions are hard and I wrangle with them for a long time--like what to do with the "lawn" in the backyard, if you can call that patch of mangy grass "lawn"--but others are easy, like this project.

      And I know all about weeds. I swear, they grow an inch when you have your back turned!

      Delete
  2. We love it Gerhard! It's fascinating to see your transition too towards more drought tolerant plants that are more suited and less maintenance requiring in your area :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely. I try to be more aware of what's going on around me. The city of Davis is in relatively good shape as far as water is concerned--not like other towns that ran out of water last year--but I want to set a good example.

      Delete
  3. Where did you get the Sunglow? Sue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At a plant raffle at the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society. Lucky find for sure! As it turned out, it had root mealies, so I removed most of the roots and thoroughly washed the ones that were left. Should be OK now.

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. Thanks!! Looking forward to seeing my new additions settled in.

      Delete
  5. You've done a great job, Gerhard. I know how hard it is to remove a plant, even if it's struggling, but your new additions are clearly better choices given the drought (which apparently isn't going to end any time soon).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To think that back in December, when it was raining non-stop for a week, people were saying "the drought is over, the drought is over."

      Delete
  6. Nice work! Also like that you remembered that I was interested in that Musella lasiocarpa years ago -- and still am! (There's still walking room in the garage this winter, so what the heck, right?) Thanks for thinking of me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great. I'll tell the lotus banana pups they'll be moving to St Louis soon. I won't mention the cold spell you're having :-).

      Delete
  7. Looks good and your plant choices are so interesting. Each one is like a little gem making your garden a special spot in addition to being drought tolerant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shirley, you read my mind! Since I have so little room in my garden, I do select plants very carefully. Sometimes plants live in pots (often the plastic nursery container they came in) for a long time before I have a spot for them in the ground.

      Delete
  8. It looks really good. All it needs is that rock mulch.

    Will fallen litter from the bamboo be a problem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You hit the nail on the head. Bamboo litter could be a problem, at least a minor one. But I've vowed not to let it build up. After all, why do I have a shop vac?

      Delete