Showing posts from January, 2023

Removing a VW Beetle-sized Agave ‘Silver Surfer’ in Michele's garden

We’ve all heard of puppies who turn into adult dogs that are much larger than the owner had ever expected. The same can happen with agaves, as you’ll see in this post. In April 2009, my friend Michele, whose garden is featured in this post , bought a couple of agaves from Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island near Portland, OR. One was an Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’, the other a new introduction called ‘Silver Surfer’. Both were cute and small, no larger than 4 × 4 inches. Michele still has the original tag: Cistus tag for Agave ‘Silver Surfer’ Agave ‘Silver Surfer’ was introduced by Plant Delights Nursery in 2007, two years before Michele bought hers. The original source was a seedling from a 1992 Yucca Do Nursery seed collecting expedition (YD 45-83) at 5,200’ ft. above Palmillas, Tamaulipas, Mexico . There, Agave americana ssp. protamericana intergrades with Agave asperrima (formerly known as Agave scabra ). The Cistus tag gave the size as “at least” 4 × 5 ft. That’s what Michele went by w

Book review: Cool Plants for Hot Gardens (Revised Edition) by Greg Starr

In California and elsewhere in the West, more and more homeowners are replacing lawns and thirsty plants with a water-wise landscape. Interest in plants that look great even with little water has never been higher. There are plenty of resources online that showcase plants suitable for parched climates, but often they’re the same 20 or 30 stalwarts. If you want to go beyond the usual suspects, I have just the book you need: Cool Plants for Hot Gardens  by Greg Starr. Cool Plants for Hot Gardens , 2nd edition This is a completely revised second edition of the book originally published in 2009 by Rio Nuevo Publishers. Large parts were revamped from the ground up. “Tired” plants were removed and exciting newer introductions added. There are more photos and they are larger than before, giving readers a better idea of what the plant looks like. Finally, Greg took out all succulents and cacti because they’ll be the subject of a companion book, Cool Cactus and Succulents for Hot Garden , sched

A few good things to brighten the mood

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some pretty unpleasant stuff: frost damage , our palo verde getting blown over , thieves stealing two rare agaves , and losing another tree because of excessive rain and high winds. I was going to post another damage assessment today but then I realized that I—and probably you—weren’t quite ready for that yet. So I decided to do a complete 180 and focus on the good things happening in the garden right now. Yes, there are quite a few. Let’s dive right in! Veltheimia capensis and ×Mangave ‘Red Wing’ The sand lilies ( Veltheimia capensis ) are in full bloom now. This South African bulb prefers full sun; mine is in the warmest spot I have. It goes completely dormant in the summer and comes back every fall. I started out with just one bulb (and one flower), now there are seven. They don’t multiply super quickly, but they do multiply. There’s a second species in the genus Veltheimia , the forest lily ( V. bracteata ). It’s actually much more common in c

Another tree down

As I described in this post , our ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde got blown over in a fierce winter storm on New Year’s Eve and landed on our minivan. Fortunately, there was no damage to the car or the plants next to the tree. We were able to cut it up for our biweekly yard waste pickup using a simple electric chainsaw. We were very lucky, considering the horrendous damage these storms and the record rainfall caused in the Sacramento area. The coast was hit even harder, with piers destroyed and roads washed out. At least 20 people were killed in the nine consecutive rainstorms that started on December 26. In light of that, our second tree calamity is a very minor footnote. For us, though, losing another tree is not a small matter, considering how few trees we have on our 8,100 sq.ft. lot. It all started when my wife noticed this on January 18: The root ball on our Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ had started to lift up. These photos taken from the street show how much the tree was leaning t

Plant thieves are pond scum

What do you see when you look at the photo below? If, maybe after scratching your head, you say “nothing,” you would be right. There’s nothing there—not anymore. Continuing our little game, what do you see in the next photo, top center? Did you say “a hole?” You’re right. A hole, partially in shadow. Here’s a wider view: You see the pattern, right? Both spots are empty. But they weren’t, as recently as a few days ago. The first spot had been occupied by this small agave: It was a hybrid by Jeremy Spaeth (Hidden Agave) called Agave ‘Ovaticata’, a cross between Agave ovatifolia and Agave parryi var. truncata . It wasn’t large (yet), but I loved its wide blue leaves and red spines and teeth: The second spot had been occupied by another rare agave hybrid, Agave ‘Sea Star’, a variegated cross between Agave ovatifolia and Agave parrasana . This is the only photo I ever took of it, and it isn’t even a particular good picture: Both agaves are gone. I discovered their absence yesterday. I

Jeff Moore, the hardest-working plantsman in Tucson

Some home gardeners, myself included, occasionally romanticize the life of professional growers: being around plants all day, fussing over them, propagating them. All of that’s true, but it’s not necessarily a glorious occupation. It’s hard work, underappreciated, and underpaid. It involves fixing things that break, usually irrigation but sometimes the very structures that house the plants. Long-term success requires patience, discipline, and dedication. Ask a dozen growers, and the majority of them will tell you that they’re nuts for being in the plant business, but at least a handful will profess to loving their job in spite all the trials and tribulations. The hardest working grower I know is Jeff Moore in Tucson. No, he’s not the author of books like Under the Spell of Succulents and Agaves: Species, Cultivars, and Hybrids . That would be Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents in San Diego County. That Jeff Moore sells awesome plants, but he doesn’t grow them. Jeff Moore of Arid Adapta