Some projects to liven up the dog days of summer

With the exception of a few days above 100°F, we've had an unexpectedly pleasant summer. That has allowed me to get more done than I otherwise would have. No big projects—they'll have to wait until fall—but a few little ones with surprisingly big impact.

Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes, and that definitely applies to empty planters. The Corten container in the photo below had been sitting there for weeks, taking the place of a bloomed-out Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer':

While the gaping maw of the Styrofoam-lined interior wasn't the most attractive sight, I wasn't in a big hurry either because I simply didn't know what to put there. Well, actually I did know: I wanted to put an Agave 'Mr Ripple' in there (I have a nice blue clone from Ron Parker). However, since the container is only 2 ft. from the public sidewalk, there was no way I could plant a massive agave so close to where people pass by. 

My next thought was to plant a variegated version of 'Mr Ripple' from Hans Hansen/Walters Gardens called 'Ripple Effect' since it's supposed to be more compact, but my own 'Ripple Effect' is still in a 1-gallon pot and hence too small. Then I toyed with various other agaves and aloes, but eventually I settled on a Hans Hansen mangave called 'Mayan Queen' (a hybrid of Agave pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha and an unnamed manfreda ). It was bursting out of a 1-gallon can and needed a larger home anyway. I think it looks pretty dashing already and will only get better as it bulks up:

×Mangave ‘Mayan Queen’

×Mangave ‘Mayan Queen’

In a comment to my post “Public sidewalk obstructers beware!,” a reader suggested I use tomato cages to corral our firecracker plants (Russelia equisetiformis), which have a habit of flopping onto the sidewalk. Browsing on Amazon I came across something I thought might work even better, a “grow-through support.” It's basically a rectangular grid with four legs that get pushed into the ground. I'm trying it out on one of the russelias. The legs aren't very sturdy, but maybe it'll work out.

Nothing new in the next photo, but since I walk by this spot all the time and really like how it's come together, I thought I'd show it to you:

Inside the front yard fence, there are two Corten planters with Hans Hansen mangaves. One has done brilliantly since day 1, ×Mangave 'Mission to Mars':

×Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’

The other, ×Mangave 'Silver Fox' (below), has struggled. Maybe “struggled” is the wrong word; it simply hasn't grown as fast as 'Mission to Mars'. In that hybrid (Agave shawii, Agave × pseudoferox, and a couple of manfredas), the manfreda genes are much stronger, contributing to its fast growth. 'Silver Fox' (Agave . pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha, and a nameless manfreda), on the other hand, seems to be taking more after its agave parents in terms of speed. As a result, it simply looked lost in its steel home—almost as sad as the poor shriveled echeverias:

×Mangave ‘Silver Fox’

Deciding there was no reason to stick with the status quo, I took out the ×Mangave 'Silver Fox' and echeverias and replaced them with a young Aloe pseudorubroviolacea and cuttings of a sedum whose label vanished a long time ago. They will fill the container quickly and become a much needed “presence” in this spot:

For perspective, here is Piece of Eden's Aloe pseudorubroviolacea in Southern California (the purplish-pink aloe on the right):

The bed along the far side of the driveway, between our property and our neighbor's, has had a few gaps since spring when I removed a few agaves that had rotted from excess rain, as well as an overgrown Aloe cryptopoda:

The only change I'd made earlier in the summer was to put the Aloe 'Mawii Gem' I'd brought home from San Diego last fall in a chimney flue liner painted with metal paint. On the weekend I added three agaves so now this spot looks less dreary:

1 – Dioon edule ‘Palma Sola’
2 – Aloe ‘Mawii Gem’
3 – Agave ocahui ‘Wavy Gravy’
4 – Agave parrasana5 – Agave ‘Mad Cow’
6 – Agave colorata
7 – Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no ohi’

Moving to the backyard, the flower spike on our Agave mitis 'Nova' was leaning so precariously that I decided to remove both it and the agave itself (it was slowly dying anyway):

This is an area perennially “in progress” and it will see more changes in the future. But it already looks a bit better now that I've added more mangaves:

1 – ×Mangave ‘Femme Fatale’
2 – Agave mitis ‘Nova’
3 – ×Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’
4 – ×Mangave ‘Blazing Saddles’
5 – Agave chiapensis
6 – Agave hiemiflora
7 – Echeveria cante
8 – ×Mangave ‘Desert Dragon’
9 – ×Mangave ‘Silver Fox’

×Mangave 'Silver Fox' is the transplant from the Corten container in the front yard; Agave mitis 'Nova' is the sole offspring of the bloomed-out mother plant I removed:

BACK: Agave mitis ‘Nova’   FRONT:  transplanted ×Mangave ‘Silver Fox

I'm not quite ready to formally unveil the bottle tree (still waiting to find 8 more blue bottles) but here's a sneak peek (or two):

The blue bottle on the right is the most recent addition, a gift from our friend Judy. Daughter #1, who's been in Europe all summer, is bringing back a blue bottle from my sister-in-law. Patience, my dear Gerhard, patience!

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  1. I'd say you've done quite a lot! My own 'Silver Fox' seems to put its energy into producing pups, more prolific in that regard than any in my small collection other than 'Kaleidoscope'. The heat's just arrived here (92F at the moment) so I'm going to need to discover some small jobs to focus on myself.

    1. My 'Silver Fox' is pupping, too. I'm tempted to remove the pups so it can focus on growing.

  2. You have progress Gerhard ! I have also been quite happy with the temps this summer (until today) and have done lots more heavy work than is typical for July. Hope we don't have to pay the piper in August. I bet you could make something similar to the green grid support using hog panels and pencil rod. I'm always searching for solutions to the plant support dilemma and tend toward rebar and pencil rod since rusty stuff seems to be much more unobtrusive.

    1. Loree, pencil rod is a steel stake that comes in various lengths, and it rusts. In Napa Valley it is used for training new vines when they are first planted. If you've seen the trellises and obelisks from Artisan Trellis up your way they are made out of pencil rod. I use those and cut rebar as plant stakes.

    2. Kathy, do you have a cheap source for rebar and pencil rod? I don't need new, but I can't find used either. Rebar is expensive!

  3. I am so jealous of all of your stunningly beautiful Mangaves. I have fallen head over heels in love with these plants but they aren't so easy to find here in So Cal and when you do find them, they have a hefty price tag; at least for my wallet. I was so surprised to find a Blood Spot at Home Depot the other day on their little succulent bench that I almost fell over. I snatched it up as it was the only one there. With the pleasant weather, I too have been re-designing some of my beds and I am hoping to do some treasure hunting to see if I can find some reasonable Mangaves to fill in empty spaces that I have made. I just need some small starts and I will be happy. Love all of your photos and your blog Gerhard. BTW.. my railroad ties arrived a couple of weeks ago and are working out splendidly in my DG yard! Thank you for sharing that tip!!

    1. I honestly don't understand why mangaves are so hard to find. They're easy to grow, nurseries should carry them by the truckload!

      Awesome that you got railroad ties as well. Mine are still working just as planned!

  4. Doesn't it feel great when you can tick things off your project list? All great improvements. The revamp of the Corten planter looks great but are you not afraid someone will make off with it some night?

    1. We've been very lucky. Nothing has ever been taken--no plants, no pots. Maybe all the spiky plants are a deterrent?


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