February 24, 2016

Wednesday vignette: #AtTheH

I noticed a while back that all the cool kids were tagging their Instagram photos of the Huntington Desert Garden with #AtTheH, and slave to fashion that I am, I started doing that, too. (Yep, I'm @weezette on Instagram.) Turns out that the Huntington folks started the tag themselves, clever souls. And now a photo of mine is on display at the H itself! I about died of delight.

Instagram is chock-full of gardeners and plant nerds (gardenerds, as Piece of Eden puts it), and great for fast posts when you've been under the weather and tired from the day job, *cough*whoopingcough*cough*. Not that I'm counting the days until spring break or anything. So looking forward to getting back into the swing of things — tons of stuff to do in the garden, and the weather is beyond perfect right now.

More vignette goodness hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum.

December 12, 2015

Maguey with Virgen de Guadalupe

Maguey with Virgen de Guadalupe

It's her day. (Read up on Mayahuel here.)

And Chet is eleven! Read Julie's wonderful post here. "Get outside. Smell the air. Look around. Cover ground." Heartfelt amen to that. Happy Birthday, Chet Baker!

December 1, 2015

Cold snap, and two new opuntias

Opuntia sulphurea, on a roll.

With temps below 30F for a few nights, many of the new and/or not-so-hardy plants were crammed under the patio roof...

and covered with frost cloth each evening. Old nursery pots came in handy as covers, too (see far right).

The sun room (odd name, since its windows face north and east) is filled with tender plants, and the garage holds a few more.

Nighttime temperatures for the next ten days or so are expected to be in the 40s F. No rain expected until late next week.

I brought two new opuntia species home from the Mexican Hat nursery. The first is Opuntia sulphurea, shown in the top photo. It's native to Argentina and Bolivia, and has stout pads with long, twisted spines. It's not supposed to be frost hardy, but a Gates C&SS friend who lives a few blocks from me has a big potted O. sulphurea that shrugs at our occasional mid 20F temps and snow. (If it grows in the "high Andes Mountains" one would imagine it to be at least frost tolerant, but several sites rate its hardiness only to zone 9b [25F].) After I bought the plant you see in these photos, the good folks at the nursery tossed in another sulphurea for free — thanks, Mexican Hat! Those twisty spines:

Wiggly: Opuntia sulphurea.

A few links:

Opuntia sulphurea at CactiGuide.
First page of an article from the C&SS Journal on O. sulphurea (October 2013).
Photo of a beautiful plant at the Huntington, via Dave's Garden.

My other new opuntia also has amazing spines, but in this case they are long and straight as knitting needles. The parent plant was growing in the ground at the Mexican Hat nursery, and a kind helper sliced off these paddles for me:

Opuntia quimilo, drying out in the garage with some cholla sections. Weird blue tint on spines produced magically by garage window.

The quimil is another native of South America. Cold hardy to zone 8, maybe. Spines are reported to reach from 8 to 16 inches in length. (Longest spines in the photo above are >4 inches.)

Lots of cool information about the quimil in this post (in Spanish). To wit:

O. quimilo is said to be a favorite hideout of black widow spiders.

The paddles are used as a folk-medicine treatment for venomous snakebites. (Paddles are also used to make a poultice for healing wounds.) It'd be kind of depressing if a black widow bit you while you were trying to break off a paddle to treat your venomous snakebite.

The quimil is a staple of this creature's diet. The pecarí quimilero was apparently known to science only through fossils, and was thought extinct until it was "rediscovered" in the 1970s. From the Wiki link: "It uses its tough snout to roll the cacti on the ground, rubbing the spines off. It may pull off the spines with its teeth and spit them out. The kidneys are specialized to break down acids from the cacti."

Are there any popular North American songs that employ cactus as metaphor? Here's a good one from Argentina. Free translation:

I'd like to be a quimil
rough and stiff-spined
so that no one would shake me
looking for ripe fruit.

It was 38F when I took the dogs out this morning. Spring can come anytime, if you ask me. Thanks to blogger and plantswoman CHACO from Argentina, whose post provided such a wealth of information on the quimil. How intertwined are the lives of plants and people...

November 25, 2015

The good, the bad, and the ugly (Wednesday vignette)

Huey, Louie, and Dewey.

Lock, stock, and three golden barrels: Patty, Maxine, and Laverne? Rock, Paper, Scissors?  Gödel, Escher, Bach? Chico, Harpo, and Groucho? Faith, Hope, and Charity? Tinker, Evers, and Chance? Shake, Rattle and Roll? Wynken, Blynken, and Nod?  Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy? Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics? 

I'm here all week, folks. Try the turkey! Heartfelt thanks today to the Gates Cactus & Succulent Society. Kind friends, patient mentors, plants for sale each month,  field trips, trades, great guest speakers, and rescue opportunities with nice plants available for a song: all courtesy of Gates. (Need a pickup truck for a rescue? I'm your girl.)

One of the loveliest things about Gates is their willingness — eagerness! — to rehome plants. That's a blessing for a gardener or collector who lives by the adage "Prune with a shovel" (™ Clair Martin, former Huntington rosarian). If a plant isn't working in my 20 x 50 foot space, it's gone. Thanks to Gates, plant and gardener part as friends. Farewells are painless when good homes are waiting in the wings. 

The top photo was taken in July, and now, in late November, only the dudleya at upper left, the tiny trio of barrels barely visible at far right, and the golden barrels — all three of them from a rescue operation — are still here. Negative space? New plants? A nice puzzle for winter.

The Wednesday Vignette meme is hosted by Anna over at Flutter & Hum: follow the link for much vignette goodness. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Week

Love this parryi. Brought him home from the school garden two years ago, after the district banned spiky plants. Sun, snow... he doesn't care. Errant leaf is from one of the recent Santa Anas. On the right is Salvia mexicana 'Limelight.'

Much for me to be thankful for. Family, friends, beautiful weather, home, health, the whole week off for dogs and gardening and walks and tamales. I'm very fortunate: all loved ones and I live safe and sound here in the most beautiful region on earth.

Over to you, Pope Francis: 

 A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this
earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
And a favorite quote from a rabbi: "Our prayers are answered when we are moved to do all that we can."


Looking south into the sun this morning. The cholla at upper right, behind the Opuntia basilaris in the old feed trough, looks like an x-ray of itself, spines translucent in the sunlight. That's a little Russelia equisetiformis in the foreground.

Last Sunday, looking north at the same group. That broken pot was one of my favorites :~( I am never throwing it away. To the left of the cholla is a new Opuntia azurea, the second one I've brought home from a UC Riverside Botanic Gardens Plant Sale. Love those spines. 

I stumbled across this Gymnocalycium chiquitanum over at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery and couldn't leave without it. It should look more like this. (Scroll down a bit). Beautiful flowers. Needs new soil and a sip of water. Think I'll keep this one inside for the winter.

The closing-shop sale at the Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery was mostly rained out last weekend, and so there are still a few days to visit and grab some very nice plants. There are BIG golden barrels (>2 feet across) for $50 and under, a gorgeous big Aloe marlothii, a huge Agave titanota, and lots of smaller plants. The nice people running the sales will help you dig up plants (if necessary — lots of choice stuff in the ground) and help carry them to your vehicle. No need to bring the wheelbarrow! Cash only. Black Friday freeway traffic will probably be insane, but towards the end of the week I'd like to drive back to the Mexican Hat for one last visit, maybe buy two or three more plants... two big golden barrels to flank the front door...? Hmmm...


Few things are more beautiful than a Monarch chrysalis, but I'll nominate a Monarch chrysalis hanging on an agave leaf. From a local blog, too: click here, then scroll down and click to embiggen. Also check out this link from the comments: more about the native vs. tropical milkweed debate, by a UC Davis professor. ("Ideologue"? Ouch. Big native plant advocate here, and wouldn't plant tropical milkweed, but look at my patio: I just bought two cactus from Bolivia, for Pete's sake.)

Meanwhile, east of the Mississippi... Julie Zickefoose is an artist and author from Ohio. She has a wonderful blog that I've been following since Chet Baker was a pup. Right now she is getting her garden ready for winter. Japanese maples, sweet potatoes, the story of 'Rio Samba' and the zinnia... and Boston Chet warming himself by the fire. Love that boy.

In the background as I blog, inimitable Chavela Vargas is singing the milonga-candombe 'Negra Maria.' True sad song (and yet so danceable) set during Carnaval in Buenos Aires. Great mix: milonga and candombe from Africa, adopted by descendants of Europeans in Argentina and Uruguay, where these musical influences were crucial to the birth of the tango. And speaking of tango, here's the awesome Gabriel Missé dancing with Analía Centurión at a studio in New York City. Skip ahead to 15:10 and watch them go all Corny Collins Show to Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. (Can't miss Little Richard's all-white 1956 audience.) In my fantasies, warring factions and evil despots hear this song on the radio, and they all put down their weapons and start to dance.