Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Garden visit: succulents—and rare fruit trees

I’m happy to report that I have a new gardening friend. Her name is Marta, and she lives not even ten minutes away. Marta contacted me after reading my post about ×Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’. Last week, I went over to her house to bring her one of the ‘Macho Mocha’ pups. I expected to see succulents, and I wasn’t disappointed. But there was so much more to discover.

Marta began to transform the front and back yard right after she and her husband bought their house in 2001. They got rid of the lawn long before it was fashionable and instead planted palm trees and succulents. Over the years, Marta added more and more aloes (she loves the flowers in the winter) as well as fruit trees. If you’re like me, you think, hmmm, fruit trees take up quite a bit of space. How many can you possibly plant in a small suburban lot? Way more than you think. Read on to find out.

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Marta’s property is on a corner, just like ours, so she has a long planting strip along the side of the house. This is where she has planted a number of agaves, including Agave vilmoriniana and Agave americana ‘Marginata’. The Agave vilmoriniana currently in the ground are actually the offspring of the original plant, which flowered (and died) years ago. I wasn’t able to take good photos of the planting strip along the side of the house, but I will try again the next time I visit Marta.

The front yard faces north, the opposite of ours. The plants here are protected from the hot afternoon sun, which seems to agree with them just fine.

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Check out that massive sago palm (Cycas revoluta):

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My eyes were glued to these mature Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoria-reginae):

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Marta is fond of Aloe marlothii; I think she has four or five between the front and back yard:

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Even though my eyes first went to the trio of Agave filifera, they eventually settled on the little tree on the left:

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Here it is again:

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The Verbascum in the photo below is beautiful on its own, but notice the pair of fruit dangling above it? It looks unusual, doesn’t it? And not only because the fruit is protected by nylon stockings. Asian pears, maybe? No, far from it. It’s a white sapote (Casimiroa edulis), a fruit tree native to eastern Mexico and Central America. I had never heard of it, nor had I ever eaten its fruit. Marta recently planted several varieties, and a few days after my visit, she brought me a white sapote fruit to try. Eating it was such a revelatory experience, I will have a separate post about it.

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For now, let’s go back to the succulents. There were more beauties to be admired, like this accidental—but utterly beautiful—combination of a tall unidentified Aeonium species and Aloe marlothii.

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And this Aloe aculeata:

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The same Aloe aculeata and a taller Aloe marlothii:

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And a beautiful but constantly offsetting Agave americana ‘Marginata’ close to the sidewalk. I spotted multiple offspring in front yards across the street. It’s the ultimate gift that keeps on giving, for better or for worse.

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Now we’re in the backyard. It’s chock full of succulents and fruit trees.

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The most impressive succulent specimen is this Aloe marlothii. Marta planted it 15 years ago. This is not a fast-growing species but waiting for it to come into its own pays off.

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Other beauties include this large fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis). It isn’t very tall, but it has quite a thick trunk:

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Echeverias and aloes growing behind a curved seating area:

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And a stunning Aloe broomii, arguably the most agave-like of all aloes:

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Aloe broomii

Another Aloe aculeata, up close…

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Aloe aculeata

…and in its entirety:

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Aloe aculeata

Notice the vining cactus above the aloe? They are Hylocereus hybrids. In the summer they have huge white flowers which open in the evening and close in the morning. When pollinated, they turn into the fruit commonly known as pitaya or dragon fruit. In nature, the night-blooming flowers are pollinated by moths and bats. Here, Marta helps things along by pollinating the flowers using a brush. She harvests over 100 dragon fruits each year. That’s quite a haul, considering each one sells for as much as $6 in the supermarket!

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Dragon fruit (Hylocereus hybrid)

As much as Marta loves succulents, there’s one thing she loves even more: fruit trees, especially rare and exotic varieties. She certainly known a thing or two about grafting, as evidenced by this plum tree that has a dozen or more different plum and cherry grafted onto it. All I could do was shake my head in awe.

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In addition to the trees planted in the ground (including an avocado with who-knows-how-many varieties grafted onto it), there were potted seedlings everywhere. These are avocados in the front, with loquats in the back.

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Look at the pots in the photo below! I’ve never seen more stylish contains for fruit trees (in this case mangos)! It turns out these containers are Air-Pots®. You put them together yourself from rolls of perforated material.

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Proof that old crutches can have a second life:

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The side yard that leads to the back yard; fruit trees everywhere:

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Speaking to Marta, I realized that there is a huge subculture out there I was never aware of: growers of rare and exotic fruit trees! The collector in me wants to delve into this new realm with both feet, but I’m doing my best to slow him down. I have precious little space left in my garden as it is. But that doesn’t mean I can’t add a thing or two…

NOTE: Marta shares the results of her gardening experiments and other observations here.

35 comments:

  1. Oh, yes. You have the perfect climate for them, cold enough for most. With proper summer pruning you can grow an immense variety. At one time I had 22 on a lot 60 x 100 half slope too steep to plant. Recommended reading: California Rare Fruit Growers (varieties), Dave Wilson Nursery (chilling and pruning) and Grow a Little Fruit Tree (your area). Have fun reading, planning and planting them.

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    1. This could be a slippery slope for me. It's easy for me to get addicted to something else, LOL.

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  2. I'm totally flummoxed that I've never stumbled across this yard, having lived in Davis for over 40 years. And I'm stunned that she is able to grow a dragonfruit in her back yard. No matter how good a microclimate she may have, it's just too cold for them here, or at least that's what I've always read. Am going to have to re-evaluate, I'm tired of dragging my 15 gallon dragonfruit in and out of the greenhouse every year. I wonder if it's the particular cultivar she has. They're supposed to need another variety for pollination, I wonder if that's a myth too. Sue

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    1. Hi Sue, I got myself into dragonfruits in 2012, and attended the Pitahaya festivals at the UC South Coast Extension Center in 2012-2014. There, I got a number of cuttings of various cultivars that Ramiro Lobo evaluated at the station. For the first two winters I kept them inside of the two pop-up greenhouses I used. Last winter they were too large to move. I just covered them with the sheets on the frosty nights. I still lost maybe up to 50% of plant mass due to rot mostly after winter. They regrew and bloomed. Heat waves this summer were more of damage, as many flowers dried up before opening up. 8S (Sugar Dragon) is the most cold and heat tolerant in my experience. It is also self fertile and universal pollinator for all other varieties I have. Most varieties are not self fertile. Here I'll paste few links describing my experience with DF growing in Davis:

      http://fruitsandgardening.blogspot.com/2015/01/notes-and-results-from-3-years-of.html
      http://fruitsandgardening.blogspot.com/2016/01/dragon-fruit-flowers-and-fruits-2015.html
      http://fruitsandgardening.blogspot.com/2016/01/dragon-fruit-fruiting-results-from-2015.html

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    2. Thanks for the info, Marta, Sue

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    3. shoot me a message if you want to stop by. my email is my last name at google com

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    4. Sue, I apologize if you tried to write me. My son noticed that I provided wrong info for my email address. It should be my last name at gmail.com , not google.

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  3. Attempting to grow Dragon Fruit is something that had crossed my mind. You may have just given me the courage of my convictions!

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  4. I do love his photos and comments! Her huge Mexicola avocado tree gave me hope for mine to survive!! Invite your neighbors to the CRFG January Scion exchange!!

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    1. I was blown away by what Marta is growing. Truly inspiring.

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  5. I referred tonight to my Sunset book to verify that Davis and Napa are both in zone 14.I have never been able to overwinter an Aeonium in the ground (multiple tries) and I've lost a Kumara as well-though it was in a pot.I think I need to be a little braver with what I put in the ground. That Sago Palm is just magnificent.

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    1. Kathy, I've had aeoniums in the ground for many years. There's a large Kumara plicatilis in the ground on the UC Davis campus although it's fairly close to a 3- or 4-story building. I think microclimates, as micro as they may be, play a big role. Experiment away!

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    2. I recently found out that Napa is much cooler in winter than Davis. I visited a gardening friend there, and she needs to cover her mature citrus every winter. I never cover mine. I only covered them on frosty night in their first year in ground. She is in the city.

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    3. Marta, I never cover my citrus unless the 20's are predicted, and I usually only get a bit of tip burn if they are left exposed.They always seem to recover . Mine are in containers though.

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  6. I can easily imagine how infectious this garden would be in person. My neighbor shares his dragon fruit with us -- the plants get huge here! I'd like to try more epiphytic cactus, not necessarily with edible fruit. Great post, thanks.

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    1. Look at the epiphytic cactus growing in trees at Lotusland! Maybe I should try that.

      But I definitely want to get a Hylocereus start from Marta to see if I can grow my own dragonfruit. I love eating them.

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    2. You are very welcome to the cuttings, Gerhard. Now you would need to root them inside the house. In spring I root them outside in light soil with lots of perlite.

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  7. What a wonderful and diverse collection of plants! I'm in love with the new-to-me Aloe aculeata.

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    1. Kris, Aloe aculeata is stunning. I don't know why I don't have one myself. I'll remedy that very soon. The Ruth Bancroft Garden had a few nice specimens for sale the last time I was there.

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    2. My first specimen came from the Lone Pine road nursery in Sebastopol, and the second one that still sits in the pot was purchased 5-6 years ago in a 5G pot at OSH in Woodland

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  8. It's also amazing to me to see what I think of as frost tender succulents looking so good in Davis, and back when I lived there, (1973-75), they were few and far between. I have problems with Aeonium freeze damage even here in zone 17 parts of Berkeley! They're fine in my garden, a block closer to the bay at my neighbor's garden they regularly get damaged.

    An interesting garden, for sure!

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    1. The funny thing about my Aeoniums is that I did not plant any of the ones you see here, intentionally. I purchased one plant maybe 14-15 years ago, it bloomed, produced seeds, died. The volunteers came out and grew, few generations by now, I think. They even grow between bricks. I move them sometimes when they are in the way. The original plant was purple, the progenies came in a range of colors from green to dark purple.

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  9. Fabulous garden Marta! Thanks for the tour Gerhard. Glad you two made each other's acquaintance. As for the old crutches I wish I would have seen this earlier today. Snow and freezing rain tomorrow, I could have used my old crutches to brace a couple of shrubs prone to bending over.

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  10. Wow! What an amazing garden! I'm starting to delve into unusual edibles, too, so I'm looking forward to following Marta's blog. Thanks for the link! Though I can't grow any of what you mentioned in this post in my climate, except maybe a dwarf citrus kept in my greenhouse for the winter. Someday I want to live somewhere with less winter chill.

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    1. Thanks Evan. I also grow many stone fruit trees that require chill, and I actually not able to grow some berries that need more chill that we get here, like sea buckthorn, honeyberry, currants

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  11. Oh wow, I can't wait to get in touch with Marta! I just bought five acres in Brazil and am constructing a tropical potager (kitchen garden). Pitaya is on my order list, it grows like crazy here! I have several fruit trees that would be considered exotic in the USA, garden beds filled with a mixture of tropical plants, common edibles, succulents, and herbs, and so much more is going on. I blog about all of it at www.courtneyhelena.com.

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    1. HI Courney, I just briefly checked your blog. Very nice. Next time I'm in Brazil, ill try to find you. I noticed your post about few Myrtaceae trees. I know a person not far from Davis who successfully fruited Jabuticaba and Surinam cherry. I also had my first harvest of Surinam cherry last summer, and just planted Cherry of Rio Grande. Hope it will survive it first winter. Dragonfruits will grow great in Brazil, try the yellow one that I can't grow here. Its the most sweet one.

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  12. Wow, what a wonderful garden and what an obviously very skilled gardener. What fun to discover this is all so nearby. Really enjoyed this post.

    I've been to the UC South Coast station and seen their extensive dragonfruit growing area--fascinating work they are doing.

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  13. Ramiro Lobo and colleagues at the UC South Coast station are putting lots of energy into the festival, and they distribute track load of cuttings every August.

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    1. This would make a great road trip destination, assuming they'll do another Pitahaya Field Day next summer.

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  14. I'm thrilled that so many of you left comments. This led to a wonderful discussion, with Marta adding lots of interesting information. Thank you!

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  15. Wow! What an exciting garden to visit, Gerhard! Being trapped indoors on an icy day here, makes it all the more droolworthy.

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