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