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.
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.
Check out that massive sago palm (Cycas revoluta):
My eyes were glued to these mature Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoria-reginae):
Marta is fond of Aloe marlothii; I think she has four or five between the front and back yard:
Even though my eyes first went to the trio of Agave filifera, they eventually settled on the little tree on the left:
Here it is again:
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.
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.
And this Aloe aculeata:
The same Aloe aculeata and a taller Aloe marlothii:
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.
Now we’re in the backyard. It’s chock full of succulents and fruit trees.
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.
Other beauties include this large fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis). It isn’t very tall, but it has quite a thick trunk:
Echeverias and aloes growing behind a curved seating area:
And a stunning Aloe broomii, arguably the most agave-like of all aloes:
Another Aloe aculeata, up close…
…and in its entirety:
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!
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.
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.
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.
Proof that old crutches can have a second life:
The side yard that leads to the back yard; fruit trees everywhere:
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.