Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Succulent hunting in the Arizona desert

Only two weeks to go to Christmas. That means two weeks and a day until I set out on my 7th annual post-Christmas trip south. Like 6 out of these 7 times, it will be to Arizona. What can I say? I love the desert, especially the Sonoran, and I need my yearly fix!

Looking back at my previous excursions, I realized that I never blogged about a December 2016 outing to the Waterman Mountains with agave guru Greg Starr, author of Agaves: Living Sculptures for Landscapes and Containers, and desert rat Ron Parker, author of Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest. It was one of the most memorable experiences I ever had in the Sonoran Desert, and the photos I took are too good not to share.


Located about 25 miles northwest of Tucson, the Waterman Mountains are part of Ironwood Forest National Monument. This is a remote area inhabited by few, if any, souls. The roads we took after getting off Interstate 10 got progressively narrower and bumpier. That was before we entered territory that can only be described as hair-raising. Ron, to his credit, handled the many potholes and sharp rocks with great skill (and speed). Eventually the “road” got too bad to continue so we parked the car and set off on foot.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Mountain Crest Gardens succulent mail order experience 👍

The wonderful thing about mail order is that it doesn't matter where you are. This is true not only for the buyer but also for the seller. Case in point: Mountain Crest Gardens, one of the bigger players in the online succulent business, is located in the small town of Fort Jones in a remote corner of northwestern California. Real estate is much cheaper there than in urban areas, allowing them to offer their plants at very competitive prices.

Coincidentally, Fort Jones is less than an hour's drive from my mother-in-law's house, and this summer she and I checked out Mountain Crest Gardens in person. Click here to read my post about our visit.

On online rating sites like Trustpilot, Shopper Approved, and Yelp, Mountain Crest Gardens has overwhelmingly positive reviews. Plant friends of mine who've ordered from them have been very pleased, not only with the quality of the plants but also with the packaging. If you think that latter is a trivial matter, you must not have ordered a lot of plants online. While some sellers have mastered the art of packaging plants securely for their arduous journey (Plant Delights and Annie's Annuals come to mind), others think sticking plants and a few wads of newspaper in a box is enough.

I hadn't really planned on ordering anything from Mountain Crest, knowing I'd visit them again in the spring, but when I saw their Black Friday deal—20% off and free shipping on orders over $49—I decided to bite. Better to give my money to a small family-owned business like Mountain Crest Gardens than ordering yet something else from Amazon.

Mountain Crest Gardens processed and shipped my plants in record time. The box arrived less than a week after I'd placed my order.

The first thing I do when I receive plants in the mail: I shake the box. In this case, there was no movement. Very good sign. This is what the inside looked like after I removed the top layer of packing peanuts (the biodegradable kind that dissolves in water):


The box itself can be recycled (duh, it's cardboard), and the materials inside—peanuts and shredded brown paper—can be composted. High marks for that.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Front garden on Black Friday 2019

This is a continuation of my previous post, which was about the renovated bed next to the front door. The photos were taken on Black Friday, the last sunny day before a series of rainstorms that will stretch into the 2nd half of next week. I love the light at this time of year—warm and gentle because of the lower angle of the sun.

The front garden is full of plants that positively glow when lit from the back or the side. This sight, from the walkway that connects the driveway with the front door, makes me feel good about what is otherwise an eclectic hodgepodge of plants:


I'm an unabashed sucker for variegated agaves: Agave sisalana 'Variegata' above and Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' below (with Yucca queretaroensis next to it):


And I'm a sucker for plants that surprise me:

×Sincoregelia, a hybrid between two bromeliad genera (Sincorea and Neoregelia); the beautiful coloration becomes more intense in cooler temperatures

Outside the fence, along the sidewalk:

Aloe marlothii, Agave weberi 'Arizona Star', Bromelia pinguin

Aloe marlothii pushing an inflorescence 

Eremophila 'Blue Bells' and ×Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Bromelia pinguin

Two different clones of Aloe dorotheae; the apple green clone never turns red

Continuing around the corner:

Felicia echinata getting ready to bloom, Acacia cognata 'Cousin Itt'

A lot happening here!

Salvia bullulata (pale form) from Annie's Annuals; the color is unlike anything I've seen in a flower

I hope the first real frost will hold off a while because it would spell the end of these flowers

×Mangave 'Mayan Queen', my favorite mangave at the moment

Grevillea 'King's Fire', thriving three years after I planted it from a #1 can

Grevillea 'King's Fire'

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'

Agave potatorum 'Cameron Blue'

Agave 'Crazy Horse' (a hybrid between Agave cupreata and Agave asperrima) in front of Eucalyptus gunnii

Giant sea squill (Drimia maritima) in front Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue', a good 4 ft. now and one of my favorite shrubby spurges

This is the spot where the accursed Bradford pear used to be. The city finally removed it and ground out the stump, at least enough for me to replant.


The replacement tree is a Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius), endemic to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara but growing well in our climate (there's a small grove at the UC Davis Arboretum). 

Other plants include:
  • Agave zebra
  • Aloe africana
  • Aloe distans × comosa
  • Canary Island daisy (Asteriscus sericeus), replanted
  • Coral Canyon twinspur (Diascia integerrima 'Coral Canyon'), replanted
  • Dwarf silver bush (Leucophytum brownii 'Bed Head')
  • Felicia aethiopica 'Tidy Tips'
  • Hesperaloe parviflora 'Sandia Glow'
  • Prostrate blue juniper (Juniperus communis var. saxatilis 'Point George')
  • Saffron buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum)
  • ×Mangave 'Espresso'

Small Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' colony started with a few cuttings I was given by Hoover Boo (Piece of Eden)

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), Agave gentryi 'Jaws', Yucca linearifolia, Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

Yucca linearifolia and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica). The calliandra is growing in a Sleeping Beauty-like fashion. I'll cut it back in the spring.

This calliandra never stops blooming. There's not a single day in the year that it's without flowers—no exaggeration. The big aloe is Aloe ferox.

Aloe ferox pushing an inflorescence

Aloe ferox and Agave parrasana

Aloe petricola, with Agave macroacantha in the background

Hechtia argentea, turning red in the colder weather

Hechtia argentea close-up

The eastern end of the bed along the street is looking fairly orderly after I did some early trimming of perennials—and removing the neighborhood's leaf accumulation for the umpteenth time

This is what Aloe 'Erik the Red' typically looks like after a long dry summer. Now that the fall rains have started in earnest, the leaves will plump up quickly.

If, as I'm hoping, the rain will continue to fall gently and nighttime lows will hold in the mid to high 40s, the aloes in the early stages of flowering should make good progress. I'll post updates.



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