August 25, 2017

Flashback Friday

Sunday morning, with border collie and barrels.

A kind and extraordinarily generous neighbor gave me this humongous golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) last week. To say I was flabbergasted doesn't even come close. "Are you sure? Are you sure?" He was. His dear wife — she passed away a year ago — had brought this cactus home when it was smaller than a grapefruit, had looked after it for decades, and my neighbor wanted it to go to a good home. I was moved and honored. You can see what wonderful care this barrel has received: it lived in (increasingly large) pots, sheltered from rain and snow, with filtered sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, until it grew so big that its size and spines became a hazard. 

So how do you move a 200+ lb barrel cactus? Believe it or not, we didn't even need gloves. Three men and yours truly used a dolly to get this beautiful barrel into my yard and settled in its new pot, and we were able to do it because I'd had the opportunity to watch a master cactus-mover at work.

Rob Roy MacGregor is a Riverside plantsman and cactus maven, and back in April I watched Rob (with cactus fanatics Aaron and Paul) move big barrels like this one into the bed of Aaron's truck, using not much more than a long piece of old shade cloth. Rob puts the shade cloth around the barrel, and uses the loose ends to maneuver the barrel without risking life and limb, and without harming the cactus. It works! Two strong men with shovels had tried and failed to budge this beauty toward a wheelbarrow (never mind into the wheelbarrow) after it fell out of its old pot, but with shade cloth in hand, we moved it to my place with the dolly, potted it in its new, 24-inch container (with an essential plant caddy), and then potted up another barrel at my neighbor's. Note to self: always keep old shade cloth handy.

Before it came to my yard, this cactus lived for years in a big container at my neighbor's house, in dirt. Not potting mix or cactus soil with pumice added — just native clay soil. Wish I'd thrown a few handfuls into the current container.

So now the girl who swore she'd never have a golden barrel has four of them, three little ones and a very, very big golden barrel, all in my very, very small backyard. "Don't be afraid to use big objects in small spaces," right? One more photo, with Jasper yawning and stretching: 

I'm not in the habit of giving names to plants. Anyhow: golden barrels Huey, Louie, and Dewey are in the background. I'd kind of like to call the new guy Jonathan Gold, because he is blond and on the round side and sharp as a tack and thoroughly awesome. 

(Both these photos were first posted on my Instagram account. Here's a link.)

August 22, 2017

Inter-City Cactus Show and Sale 2017

This beauty is a Melocactus. Frost-tender, so I should avoid them.

Great plants and great plant people at the L.A. Arboretum weekend before last for the The 32nd Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale. Saw many plant-loving buddies, and enjoyed a picnic lunch with Denise of A Growing Obsession. (Denise is one of the nicest, coolest people you could ever hope to meet, and her blog is sensational.) I had a wish list of exactly two plants, and failed to find either one at the sale. Bought a few others instead :~) Also bought about 50 lb of top dressing. A few photos:

Ecninocactus texensis was one of the two species on my want list. You can see why: it's gorgeous, and not huge. It's also hardy to at least 15° or 20°F.

Not much into plants with caudices, but if I were, I'd have tried to smuggle this beauty home.

 Uebelmannia pectinifera, endemic to Brazil, turns a deep chocolate or purple color in sun. Fabulous looking but said to be a challenge to grow. Low tolerance for cold.

Dream plant right here: a gorgeous, variegated Ferocactus. Just perfect.

This variegated beauty is a hybrid between a Ferocactus and a Thelocactus, both species native to Mexico and the Southwest.

One Astrophytum...

... three Astrophyta? Plants in this genus are native to the Chihuahuan desert. "Easy and hardy," says palmbob. Good from 125°F to 20 °F.

Echinocactus parryi, high on the want list. Another native of the Chihuahuan desert.

Gorgeous little agave - sorry I didn't get the name of this one.

Agave parviflora v. flexiflora, now on the want list. This variety is native to the Mexican state of Sonora.

Running from a hungry Arboretum peacock. Denise saved me by offering it a small child.

My new Thelocactus bicolor, yet another Chihuahuan desert native, blooming like mad in the truck on the way home. I love the Inter-city show.

March 19, 2017

Season's Greetings

The Calliandra hybrid 'Sierra Starr' went from bare to blazing overnight. 
Click photos to embiggen.

I'm so glad it's spring. You all know what winter was like, and there are no words for how grateful we Californians are for the rain and snow. However. When the weather gets wet and cold (lowest this winter here was around 26 F), I need to protect some plants. And then I need to un-protect them when the sun comes out. Dozens are moved under the patio roof, and another dozen or so are moved inside. This is what my yard looks like, all frost cloth and plastic sheeting and upside down nursery pots, off and on and off and on, from November until early March:

Ferocactus kindergartners under there somewhere. 

Precipitation shots. These guys were on their own:

Agave x leopoldii

Mason Valley Cholla, Pink Teddy Bear Cholla
Cylindropuntia fosbergii

Opuntia basilaris hybrid 'Baby Rita.' 'Baby Rita' is standing up straight now. Some opuntias stage a swoon in cold weather.

"Opuntia sp. 'Old Mexico' appears to be a spineless selection of Opuntia gomei, a native just barely to the southernmost coast of Texas and more abundantly down into Tamaulipas. The cultivar name comes from Helen Wynans, a cactus dealer in Brownsville in the 1970's and 80's," says Mountain States Wholesale Nursery. 'Old Mexico' is a favorite of mine - this one was started from a cutting gifted to me at Riverside's legendary, now closed, much missed Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery. 

Lovely Aloe microstigma bloomed for me last year, but not this time around. I've given away all but a handful of aloes - they hate the winter here, and burn in the summer.

I thought the cold, wet weather would never end, and then, overnight, everything started to wake up. The foothills began to turn green - greener than they've been for years. I drove up to El Dorado Ranch Park for a morning hike with a view. (It was 33 F before the sun came over the ridge.) El Dorado Ranch is a beautiful open space preserve a few miles away off Oak Glen Road, with miles of hiking trails through the foothill chaparral. I still fantasize about having a little ranchito (horses, chickens, a donkey...) in a setting like this:

Friend Gerhard Bock stopped by on his way to Palm Springs, and we checked out the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center and Granite Hill Nursery. Visit Gerhard's blog for great photos of Jurupa. I snapped a favorite - this is Ferocactus pilosus, the Mexican Fire Barrel:

On the way back to my place we stopped to visit Rob Roy MacGregor, a Riverside plantsman whose greenhouses are just... well, look at this beautiful specimen:  

Agave victoriae-reginae 'White Rhino'

Have to add a couple photos from other road trips. The ridiculous and the sublime:

Pottery Barn's display of plastic succulents, oy.

The most fiery Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' I've ever seen, at a business off the 10 freeway in Yucaipa. Incredible winter stress color. I need to ask for a cutting (though I'm afraid the plant would freeze and die at my elevation).

The Meyer lemon tree lost most of its winter fruit to the cold and wet, but the tree itself is green, thriving, and ready to explode with blooms. Yesterday I heard my first-of-season bee. The tree will be roaring with them soon. I managed to salvage this trio:

The mission fig and the pomegranates are leafing out:

Agastache mexicana 'Red Fortune' is seen here leaning on a cactus I'm more and more convinced is a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). It was unlabeled but sold as a cardón (Pachycereus pringlei). For reference, that's a cardón to its left, much skinnier and actually just an inch shorter than its stouter pot mate. I need to repot that  cardón:

And here we are this morning. Birdsong, yellow Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae 'Lutea') in bloom, coffee at hand, and my good boy ready for his after-breakfast snooze. Oh spring, I love you so:

Outtake, from earlier. (Cat over there? Gotta scratch. Walker incoming! Plan for the afternoon: toss everyone in the truck and visit that good friend with an acre of lawn.) Hope your Sunday and your spring are wonderful!

March 13, 2017

Four Shaw Agaves

Agave shawii at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center.

Plantsman Gerhard Bock of the terrific Succulents and More blog made a dash to SoCal last weekend, and we met over at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center to check out the plants and the views. We both spent some time admiring two variegated stands of Agave shawii.

Agave shawii is more common in the wild in Baja California than it is here in Alta Cali, where most of the plant's native habitat has been paved over. Here's a distribution map. And here is a page from Calflora comparing shawii's ideal growing conditions to the inland location where I took these photos. Shaw agaves don't like inland heat, and they burn in full sun. At Jurupa, though, conditions (sloping ground, filtered shade) seem to be ideal. The plants Gerhard and I saw last week were beautiful.

 The agave in the next photo had a trunk, and towered over his kinfolk:

The variegation on the plant below was wonderful. Hard to tell from this photo, but most of the plants in the colony seemed to be variegated:

I have a little, variegated shawii of my own, acquired a couple years ago via trade with Riverside succulent expert Rob Roy MacGregor. Hope it looks this good someday! Be sure to check out Gerhard's blog for more terrific photos from Jurupa.

November 12, 2016

Cry, the Beloved Country

Well, there's that: we're not apartheid South Africa. At least not yet, anyway. Rough week!

Good suggestions. Here's Part Two:

A photo posted by vinewinenyc (@vinewinenyc) on

These are suggestions from NYC. I expect there are many other worthy organizations, activist groups, artists, journalists — some local, some California-centric — that could use support: the local library is high on my list.

You might consider joining others in support of indigenous rights, our water, and our climate on November 15.

Feeling paranoid? (And perhaps you should be, all things considered...) This link is for you.

And this, from Chris Clarke:

In case his words get lost in the shuffle, I'll repeat them:

"This morning I saw a little blade of big galleta grass coming up a foot from the rest of the plant. It is such a small thing. It has so little effect on anything. But there are millions of clumps of big galleta grass in the desert. Each one sending out one shoot binds a little soil, sequesters a little carbon. Working together, they heal the earth."

Forward together, friends.